Christian organisations across the state have threatened to close down Catholic schools in Maharashtra as a sign of protest after the Education department ordered a First Information Report (FIR) against the management of St Marys School in Mazgaon for not refunding capitation fees collected from parents.
Four NGOs Catholic Secular Forum (CSF),Association of Concerned Catholics (AOCC),Maharashtra Christian Youth Forum (MCYF) and Catholics for the Preservation of the Faith (CPF) have come together to support St Marys School.
Principals and managements of Catholic schools are being victimised. The order to file an FIR has been passed just when admissions are going on,which gives rise to much speculation about the dubious motive of the department, said Joseph Dias,general secretary of CSF.
We have called Cardinal Oswald Gracias,the Archbishop,to close down all Catholic schools as a mark of protest against the education department as principals are facing harassment from the department and also from politicians, he said.
The CSF has even started a helpline for principals who are victimised or pressurised. The organisations have also urged the School Education Minister to intervene in the matter and take action against concerned officials. If the authorities fail to take action then we would be compelled to take to the streets. How can the Director of Education instruct that an FIR be registered against the school when the issue is still pending in the court? asked Agnello Fernandes,MCYF president.
According to the education department,it was found that the school had been collecting money from students towards fines and funds like teachers benefit fund,primary teachers gratuity fund,etc. The school also collected lifetime membership fees for Parent-Teachers Association from parents.
Following complaints and after an inspection of the school,the education department had de-recognised the school on May 24,2011,over charges of illegal collection of Rs 1.45 crore and for manipulating exam results,besides other offences. The school challenged the order in the Bombay HC.
The HC stayed the de-recognition process,but directed the school to refund an amount of Rs 1.45 crore to parents within a month or face disciplinary action. The management of St.Marys School then moved court in April against the order passed by the Director of School Education asking them to refund Rs 1.45 crore.
When contacted, Dr Shridhar Salunkhe said order to file an FIR is according to rule. We are free to take action against the school for offence they have committed. The matter is in court,but the court has not restrained us from taking action against the school management, said Salukhe.