It would be a gross understatement to call it merely chaotic; the virus has transcended administrative incompetence and student indiscipline. The underworld and a sizable segment owing allegiance to the Trinamul Congress Chhatra Parishad now dominates the admission process in several colleges in Kolkata, notably Asutosh, City College, Manindra Chandra ~ with its morning, day and late evening branches ~, Jaipuria, Surendranath, Maulana Azad College and Goenka College of Commerce and Business Administration, the last two under the West Bengal government.

It is a thin line that now demarcates ~ if at all ~ the search for learning from organised crime, and this is obvious from the virtual t akeover of several campuses by the police since Monday. The awesome spread of the crisis prompted the Chief Minister to make an “unannounced visit” to Asutosh, in the vicinity of her Kalighat residence.

Her decision to scrap the counselling system and rely only on the entrance test underscores the gravity of the criminality. No less crucially, the head of Trinamul’s youth wing, Jaya Dutta, has been removed. If the police are called upon to monitor the admission procedure, the search of learning has become utterly putrid.

Student unions, aided and abetted by the local toughs, are making a fast buck through the rampant extortion of students seeking admission, most particularly those who are on the waiting list. Horror of horrors, the “entry price”, so-called, for any of the more important subjects can be as high as Rs one lakh, and still more so if the applicant’s performance in the school-leaving examination is below the benchmark.

Has the online system, introduced in the last academic session, failed? Has the education department discontinued the system and for reasons that need not detain us here? Yes indeed, the student has the right to know.

It used to be said in the 1970s that the academic atmosphere in West Bengal was not conducive for higher learning. If Naxalite violence was then cited as one major deterrent, the almost endemic extortion by unions allegedly affiliated to the ruling party has now made college education a dangerous proposition at entry point.

This largely explains why Mamata Banerjee has instructed the education minister, Partha Chatterjee, to crack the whip on the party activists. Reports suggest that the Chief Minister will probably “cut to size” some leaders of the student wing in an effort to shore up the party’s image before the Lok Sabha election.

For all that, her statement at Asutosh College seemed rather feeble in response to the ugly truth ~ “If some people are demanding money for admissions, it is totally wrong.” In point of fact, the students are being fleeced at the threshold of undergraduate studies.

The colleges bear witness to a new edition of the syndicate raj and overwhelming must be the helplessness of the government and the college authorities. From one dispensation to another, education wallows in the mire.