Coaching blues, spurious liquor and drug abuse - A dangerous triumvirate!
Each of these three problems has a devastating impact on our socio-economic fabric, causing irreparable damage to the nation
As a nation, we must rise collectively to address multidimensional challenges emerging out of the burgeoning coaching industry, spreading tentacles of spurious liquor and menacing drug abuse. It is a dangerous triumvirate, which we cannot afford to ignore under any circumstances. Each of these three problems has a devastating impact on our socio-economic fabric, causing irreparable damage to the nation. The net gainers of the fast spreading coaching industry, thriving business of spurious liquor and drugs are a miniscule percentage of the rich and powerful among us, but the price is being paid by the whole of the country. I do not know how many of us have ever thought of the long-term repercussions of coaching institutes but India @75 must pause, think and evaluate the benefits of mushrooming coaching institutes across the country. It is true that they guide our students to prepare themselves well for various competitive examinations, but every aspirant who wants to clear a competitive examination is in a position to afford the cost of coaching classes? Certainly, not!
Most poor students can't think of availing coaching classes in top institutes, which spend crores of rupees on advertisements every year. Low-income group parents have to spend their hard-earned money if they wish for their children to get some quality coaching classes. Except middle class families and those who have some solid sources of income from businesses and other assets including agriculture, most of us cannot afford spending a hefty amount on the coaching classes of our children. On the other hand, the trauma and mental agony the students suffer while attending coaching classes have no prices. No number of efforts can fill the gaps which coaching classes are causing between haves and have-nots. Unfortunately, we have neither a collective will power nor a unified voice to raise against something which is causing so much harm to us. A large number of students from humble and poor backgrounds miss millions of opportunities because they are not as tutored and guided as their counterparts from rich families. Coaching institutes in the private sector should immediately be banned however mammoth a source of employment generation and revenue they may be! These should only be in the public sector.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India, while taking the suo motu cognizance of media reports that three students of a coaching centre died by suicide in Kota, Rajasthan on December 11, 2022, has issued notices to the Chief Secretary, Rajasthan, Union Secretary of Higher Education and the Chairperson, National Medical Commission. A statement issued by the NHRC on December 14 reads: "The incident has once again brought the spotlight back on punishing pressure the teenagers are experiencing at private institutes for limited seats in pursuing technical and medical education. Over the years, Kota has become a hub of private coaching centres for the aspirants of the National Entrance Eligibility Test (NEET). They are charging a very hefty amount. Students, from across the country, are staying in hostels, paying guest houses with a high expectation of success. This is putting them under a lot of pressure. There is a need to regulate private coaching institutes."
The NHRC has felt that "there is a need to formulate a regulatory mechanism and since the regulation of higher education is of the state subject, the need for evolving a mechanism shall fall upon the state, in consultation with the Central government ... The Chief Secretary, Rajasthan, is expected to submit a detailed report of the incident. It must also spell out the steps taken or proposed to be taken by the State about the regulatory mechanism to control the private coaching institutes in view of the large number of reported suicides of students ... The Secretary, Ministry of Higher Education, is expected to inform about the formulation of the National Action Plan of a proportional increase of the seats in technical education as well as medical education and also to evolve the mechanism to get rid of the rat race of getting admission in the private coaching centres to achieve success in the competitive examination of JEE and NEET ... The Chairperson, National Medical Commission is expected to inform about initiating some progressive and student friendly mechanism to get success in NEET without being subjected to huge mental and psychological pressure, while undergoing coaching in private institutions."
To be fair to myself and to all esteemed readers, I have no idea at all as to what kind of positive result we will have from the NHRC taking note of death of three students by suicide in Kota. If I am not mistaken, the NHRC issues a number of such notices annually in cases including the death of poor people in police custody, incidents of rape, murder, denial of quota to OBCs in admission in government institutions, acts of atrocities against SCs and STs but is very little in the public domain about the positive impact of NHRC's interventions. However, I fully appreciate the NHRC's quick interventions in several matters of grave concern and whatever little bit of good is done to the victims. NHRC has also issued notices to the Chief Secretary of Bihar and the Director General of Police about the hooch tragedy in Saran district of Bihar in which several people have died after allegedly consuming spurious liquor. In Bihar, the sale and consumption of alcohol is completely banned from April 2016. Since then, there have been several hooch tragedies in the state.
One should be happy if the NHRC is able to ensure that no one is allowed to sell spurious or illicit liquor to poor people in any part of the country. Unfortunately, there is hardly any state which does not report hooch tragedies which kill but only the poor people. As per an estimate, India sees the death of three people every day due to the consumption of spurious liquor. As per the report of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a total of 708 incidents of consumption of illicit or spurious liquor caused 782 deaths in the country during 2021. Maximum such deaths were recorded in Uttar Pradesh (137) followed by Punjab (127), Madhya Pradesh (108), Karnataka (104), Jharkhand (60) and Rajasthan (51). As per the report, 737 people died in 747 incidents of drug overdose reported across the country. With 78 fatalities, Punjab recorded the third highest number of deaths due to drug overdose after Tamil Nadu (250) and Rajasthan (113). Manipur and Madhya Pradesh were at fourth and fifth place with 36 and 34 deaths, respectively. According to the data, India reported over 6,000 deaths in five years between 2016 and 2020 due to the consumption of spurious liquor. India logged the lowest number of deaths – 947 - caused by illicit liquor in 2020.
The million-dollar question is how to check the rot and crush the menace of drug abuse and spurious liquor? The answer is very simple. Handout exemplary punishment to the suppliers of drug and illicit liquor. Break the spine of the forces behind the supply of drugs to the country. One may have a serious doubt if we will ever be able to take on them seriously as they are powerful people and also call the shots in the corridors of power. They are certainly not made up of steel frames but they matter a lot to those who drive and mobilize people in a democratic set-up. As a nation, we have not been able to regulate the fee structure of hospitals and institutions in the private sector. They charge as much as they wish, depending upon the market forces. Those who can pay are in their own comfort zone and those who cannot, don't have anyone to complain to. Unfortunately, the executive, legislature and judiciary have but their own priorities, as is the case with our civil society. It is an ominous situation. We are getting morally corrupt and resultantly we are fast losing the will power and inner urge to form a collective voice for the people's inclusive betterment and empowerment!
(The writer is a senior journalist, columnist and author. The views expressed are strictly his personal.)