Kerala sudents call off agitation

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM Aug. 10. Striking students' unions called off their week-long indefinite fast in front of the Secretariat here this evening on the basis of an understanding arrived at a high-level meeting convened by the Industries Minister, P.K. Kunhalikutty, and the Finance Minister, K. Sankaranarayanan.

The understanding covers two main issues the unions had focussed on: the fee structure in self-financing colleges, the management-merit quota; and reduction in fees for degree courses, SSLC examination and a few other services such as computer education.

Addressing a press conference after the discussions, Mr. Kunhalikutty, who is holding temporary charge of Education, said it had been agreed to uphold the principle that two self-financing institutions constituted one Government college. "As for the fee structure in self-financing institutions, the Government would implement its policy after the Supreme Court gave it verdict on the case now before it. The Government would seek legal opinion and, if necessary, resort to legislation," Mr. Kunhalikutty said.

He said the Government had agreed to reduce by 50 per cent the SSLC examination fee of Rs.30 and Rs. 60. The fee for degree and post-graduate courses would be limited to a 10 per cent hike in place of the 20 per cent announced earlier.

As a general principle, the Government would re-examine the fee hike if it crossed the 50 per cent mark. The Government would also re-examine the computer fees, which had been fixed at Rs. 25, he said.

With regard to the sanctioning of unaided schools, the Minister said the Government had already recognised 600 schools. However, sanction would be given only after proper hearing and care would be taken not to affect the existing schools.

The Government would also follow similar procedures in the 48 unaided arts and science colleges, Mr. Kunhalikutty said.

He said the Government would also hold discussions with students' organisations on the Kerala Universities Bill, which was now before the Subject Committee.

On whether the Government could bring in legislation if the Supreme Court verdict went against the accepted principle, Mr. Kunhalikutty said he did not want to comment on a matter that was before the apex court; but legislation was possible, if one were to go by the State legislation on the creamy layer issue.

The Finance Minister, K Sankaranarayanan, said discussions with the students' organisations on issues related to the education sector would be held in future also. Any residual issues related to the strike would be decided after discussions with the Chief Minister, he said.

Earlier in the morning, Mr. Kunhalikutty and Mr. Sankaranarayanan had held discussions with representatives of various teachers' organisations on the contentious issues in the education sector. Briefing presspersons on the outcome, Mr. Kunhalikutty said the talks were "extremely positive''.

He said the teachers' organisations had expressed the view that the Government should devote more attention to improving the quality of education in schools.

The general secretary of the pro-CPI(M) Kerala State Teachers' Association, Rasheed Kanichery, however, said the Government had given no firm commitment on the demands raised by the organisation.

The organisations had demanded at the talks that the teacher-student ratio in schools be brought to the ideal level of 1:40. They appealed to the government to revoke the policy of closing down Government schools considered "uneconomical'', as it would deny education to students from the most under-privileged sections of society.