It was a scam waiting to come to light. According to reports in this paper, of the over 1.42 lakh teachers appointed for classes I to XII, as part of a mass recruitment drive by the Nitish Kumar government between 2006 and 2011 in Bihar, over 20,000 may have landed the jobs by submitting forged degrees. As more degrees are checked, the scam may grow in scale. The irregularities have been bared now, but the chorus of discontent against the poor quality of education in schools has been loud on the ground in Bihar for many years now. It was also a scam that has overtaken a government functioning under magnificent constraints. When the Nitish government took charge in 2005, it inherited institutions mired in stages of disrepair when they were not entirely razed to the ground. From primary schools to hospitals, from law and order to roads, the Nitish government had to begin, quite literally, at the beginning, so wide and deep was the breakdown of the Lalu years. In its urgency to show results, the Nitish government clearly shortcircuited due process. This will, inevitably, return to haunt.
The government should have listened more, and been quicker to respond. It should have heeded the voices of parents and students who railed against schools that had come back to life only to offer a poor quality of teaching, and about bribes becoming rampant even as the state reached out to the people through an array of schemes and programmes. The degree verification drive came too late in the day, even as the complaints had flooded in right after the first phase of recruitment in 2006. The Teacher Eligibility Test, begun in 2012, could also have come earlier. Even now, the probing authorities are themselves under a cloud — in many cases, it is alleged that those accused of making the dubious appointments are being asked to verify the authenticity of the degrees.
The Nitish government can claim successes against great odds — from the restoring of people’s faith in law and order, to schemes that made a visible difference. If that legacy is not to be irreparably clouded, the Jitan Manjhi government must now act urgently and visibly against those who have thwarted and undermined a success story in primary education. The future, quite literally, is at stake.