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Clampdown on privateers

As India is celebrating the golden jubilee of its independence, one of the most enduring symbols of the British legacy, the private school, is about to lose its freedom.

For 50 years, private schools have enjoyed freedom in terms of admission criteria, fees, syllabuses and appointment of teachers, but the government has now decided to crack the whip to ensure that they cease to be a law unto themselves.

The first stone has been cast by the Delhi government, which has sent out notices to 18 leading schools for violating the education act. It has given them 15 days to fall in line or face action. This follows complaints of alleged profiteering by these schools, later confirmed by a special inspection, according to the education minister Dr Harsh Vardhan.

"We found that they were overcharging students, collecting money under fictitious heads like 'excursion fund', 'magazine fund' and 'medical examination fee' without providing these facilities," he said.

The Forum of Public Schools has protested, describing the government's action as witch-hunting and vindictive. Mr S L Jain, secretary of the Forum, said: "It would lead to demoralisation and affect the quality of education." The principal of one school said: "We provide quality education and that costs money. Public schools have good classrooms, good furniture and laboratories. "

Some principals have said that the government is trying to deflect attention from its own "failure" to provide quality school education guaranteed under the constitution.

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