Making Missionary Schools Accountable

When they’re earning millions, why should they pay peanuts to government?

Making Missionary Schools AccountablePeople generally are under this impression that Right to Information Act ( RTI) is applicable to Government departments only and that is the reason citizens of this state seek information under RTI from the Government departments and public sector undertakings ( PSU’s) only. For the information of our esteemed readers, I want to clarify that nowhere in J& K RTI Act 2009 and even Central RTI Act 2005, it is mentioned that RTI is applicable to Government authorities only. Section 2 ( i) of J& K RTI Act 2009 reads “ Right to Information means the right to information Accessible under the Act which is held by or under control of any Public Authority.” This clearly indicates that RTI applies to Public Authorities and not only to the Government departments. The definition of “ Public Authority” is mentioned in section 2 ( f) of J& K RTI Act 2009 and it never says that Public Authority only means Government institutions, Semi Government organizations or PSU’s.

What is Public Authority? Under J& K RTI Act 2009 a Public Authority is defined as any authority or body or institution of self Government established or constituted: I) By or under the constitution of India or the constitution of Jammu & Kashmir II) By any other law made by Parliament III) By any other law made by State legislature IV) By notification issued or order made by the Government and includes any A) Body owned, controlled or substantially financed B) Non Government Organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided the Government.

By and large Central RTI Act 2005 also has the same definition vis a vis Public Authority.

Are Private Schools Public Authorities? If we go by the definition of Public Authority, the majority of the Private educational institutions especially private schools do not directly fall under the category of public authority because most of them are not substantially financed or funded by Government directly or indirectly except having some controlling powers. But, there are many educational institutions in our state which are very much funded by the Government directly and even indirectly. Many educational institutions especially the “ Christian Missionary” schools have been provided state land on lease by the Government on subsidized annual rent. It is a known fact that only two or three prominent Christian missionary schools of Srinagar are paying less than Rs 20,000 ( twenty thousand) towards the Government as annual rent in lieu of the land provided by the Government under J& K Land Grants Act.

The state land was provided to these schools many decades back under an agreement that they would provide free education to poor and downtrodden students of the state. These details have not only been revealed by the Revenue department authorities under RTI Act but during October 2012 the Legislative Council provided this information to the then Member of Legislative Council ( MLC) from Srinagar Mohammad Ashraf Mir who is right now holding the charge of Minister of State ( MoS) for Urban Development and Power.

The rent these missionary schools are paying towards the Government is 30 times less than the admission fees they are charging from the students. There is one missionary school which has not at all paid the annual rent from the last more than 35 years and from 1980 till date the annual rent is yet to be fixed.

These details have been provided by Tehsildar Nazool Srinagar to an information seeker under State RTI Act few years back.

The land provided by the Government to three Christian missionary schools in Srinagar on lease alone measures 212 kanals which is located in posh areas of Srinagar city like Ram Munshi Bagh, Raj Bagh and Sheikh Bagh.

The market value of this prime land as on date is estimated to be more than Rs 1000 Crores ( One thousand crores). Having been given such a huge chunk of land on highly subsidized rent ( almost free of cost) by Government, how can the managements of these schools claim that they are not Public Authorities? How can they refuse to provide information under Right to Information Act ( RTI) to the citizens of J& K? It is the citizens of state whose land worth Rs 1000 Crores is being utilized by the missionary schools, but when the same citizens demand accountability from the managements of these institutions, the school authorities behave in such a way as if they are the sole custodians of the land which is under their control.

Nobody can deny the role played by “ Christian Missionary” schools towards upliftment of Kashmiri society. They have played a tremendous role and still continue to do so in the field of education but that does not mean they should not be held accountable by the people? We do have the right to ask these school authorities about their income and expenditure. We should be updated about the policies of these schools. We should know the criterion for appointment of Principal, Director and other members of the managing body of these schools.

These schools are no more missionary schools but have turned into Private limited companies wherein there is no fixed tenure of the principal and other members of the managing body.

Conclusion : The concept of leasing out land on subsidized rent to various educational institutions including Christian Missionary schools was to ensure that these schools provide free education to at least 25 % of the students who belong to weaker sections of the society. Are these schools giving free education to such students? Government is supposed to give subsidy and other facilities to non profitable institutions but these schools are not at all non profitable institutions. They charge hefty admission fees from students plus monthly fees, bus fees etc. Keeping all these things into consideration, we hope Government should now decide whether it is logical to charge mere Rs 12000 as annual rent per year for 90 kanals of land or Rs 3200 for 32 Kanals of land under control of these institutions? Either these schools must reserve 25 to 30 percent of the seats for poor students, or they should be asked to pay the rent as per present market value of the land so that there’s no further loss to our state exchequer.

These schools must reserve 25 to 30 percent of the seats for poor students, or they should be asked to pay the rent as per present market value of the land so that there’s no further loss to our state exchequer.

GOVERNANCE DR RAJA MUZAFFAR BHAT muzaffar. rti@ gmail. com

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