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Mice in the rat race

Sumant Kumar of Gopalganj district in Bihar, adjoining Uttar Pradesh (UP), had been taking coaching classes at a Patna institute for the entrance exam for the Indian Institutes of Technology, reports Vijay Swaroop.

patna Updated: Feb 22, 2010 23:03 IST
Vijay Swaroop

Sumant Kumar of Gopalganj district in Bihar, adjoining Uttar Pradesh (UP), had been taking coaching classes at a Patna institute for the entrance exam for the Indian Institutes of Technology.

He has been asked by the proprietor of a private lodge in Patna to vacate his room because of the agitation against coaching institutes in Bihar.

Students preparing for the entrance tests for a year have been left in the lurch. Those taking medical entrance tests also have a similar tale to recount.

Students are unhappy with such institutes because of the poor quality of teaching and infrastructure. About 10 days ago there was a shutdown in Patna and some other cities of Bihar in protest against this.

“There is no relative with whom I can stay till normalcy returns,” said Sumant, whose entrance test is scheduled in April.

“The coaching institute has cheated us. Our class XII examinations are due to be held in March but they have not completed the syllabus even though we paid the (entire fees),” said Manzar Alam, a resident of Araria district in north-east Bihar.

The coaching institutes, with an estimated annual turnover of nearly Rs 1,000 crore, have emerged as one of the fastest-growing industries in India. The country’s expenditure on education for fiscal 2009-10 is Rs 44,528 crore.

In Bihar, the coaching business has a turnover of more than Rs 300 crore, while in Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, it is worth Rs 100 crore.

Bihar has more than 2,000 coaching institutes, with a majority of them in Patna, which has more than 1,000.

In Patna, there are more than 100 institutes in one bylane called coaching gali, operating out of small, dingy cubbyholes dressed as classrooms.

“Close to 200,000 students are enrolled in medical and engineering courses, while another 150,000 have joined the institutes to be trained for banking, railways and Staff Selection Commission examinations,” the owner of a premium coaching institute said, preferring anonymity.

Preparation for IIT-JEE and other entrance examinations for engineering courses costs between Rs 25,000 and Rs 40,000 a year in Bihar. The same courses cost Rs 21,000 in Kanpur and between Rs 70,000 and Rs 1 lakh in Kota. The fees of institutes in Bihar and UP training students for the civil services conducted by the Union Public Service Commission are between Rs 20,000 and Rs 25,000.

For a one-year medical entrance test coaching course, the institutes charge between Rs 30,000 and Rs 40,000.

On average, a coaching institute employs six faculty members, two counsellors (people who help students in choosing courses), two office clerks — who also double as accountants — and two peons.

Many private homes in Patna have been converted into girls’ hostels, with one room accommodating three students and charging between Rs 4,000 and Rs 5,000 per month.

Spurred into action because of violent protests by students enrolled with thousands of coaching institutes, the Bihar government is mulling the introduction of ‘CBSE-type eligibility criteria’ for running private coaching institutes in the state.

“The eligibility criteria will find place in the new Bill to regulate private coaching centres that the government will bring in during the forthcoming budget session of the state legislature,” Human Resources Development Minister Hari Narayan Singh said.

The Bill will specify the minimum basic infrastructure for private institutes to become eligible for registration. The criteria will be the premises on which they will run and the number of students they can enrol. It will also address the issue of the fees that could be charged by private coaching institutes.

According to Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi, who holds the finance portfolio, neither value-added tax nor any other tax is applicable to private coaching institutes under the existing laws of the country.

“Coaching institutes only qualify as service providers that have to pay service tax to the central government. The state government has no role in the matter,” Modi said.

Modi said when the issue of introducing goods and services tax (GST) came up, state finance ministers had identified levying cess on educational institutions by state governments as among the measures they could take to cover revenue losses suffered by them on account of GST.

“Some time ago, the (state) human resources development (HRD) department had examined options available for reining in private institutes. Feedback from Kota suggested that even Rajasthan did not have a law to regulate such institutes,” said an officer who did want to be identified because he is not authorised to speak on the issue.

“They have a separate fees package for monthly and annual payers, spend huge amounts on publicity and give lofty assurances to attract students,” said GP Sinha, principal, Presidency Public School, Meerut.

However, Gaurav Sharma, who runs a maths coaching institute, says that such bodies have done a commendable job by opening the doors of high-profile professional and engineering institutes for boys and girls from middle-class families. He suggested that the government should lend a helping hand to the institutes by recognising it as an organised sector.

“We (coaching institutes) nurture the dreams of parents with hard work,” said Sharma.

With inputs from Haider Naqvi in Kanpur and S. Raju in Meerut