Unless some serious rethinking is done, the e-counselling process in West Bengal could end in a fiasco this year, says gautam banerjea
IF one were to consider the initial trend this year pertaining to admissions in engineering colleges in West Bengal, the final scenario might not result in being as bleak as last year after counselling ended in the state. However,  optimism does not provide any consolation at this stage for engineering colleges that failed to get enough students to meet their intake capacity. A tentative, unimaginative counselling schedule, announced by the Joint Entrance Examination Board (Jeexab) could prove to be a major cause for chaos in the coming days, thereby marring their possibility of getting more students to enroll for engineering courses this year.
This time, an additional fourth round of counselling has been included in the schedule to allow students, who could get trapped after making mistakes in their initial selections, the opportunity to change previously “locked” choices. But so little time has been provided for that final round that it could prove confusing for everyone concerned at this crucial juncture.
   Interestingly, there is no provision for students who got to choose in the first round to gain immediate admission. Candidates can at best visit reporting centres (26 in all, located in different districts of West Bengal) and report for “remote admissions”. But they will still have to wait — along with the others who are interested in keeping their options open — and will eventually be provided with a slot in the same window, along with all the other admission-seekers.
The time slot for all admissions through e-counselling in respective colleges this year has been fixed from 26-29 July 2013. The opening day is a Friday and the exercise will be over the following Monday. From past experience, most of the colleges feel a major bulk of admissions will occur on the concluding or penultimate day of the window period. In all likelihood, admissions will take place on Sunday or Monday, which could be a problem. As directed by Jeexab, colleges need to submit a report by 5 pm on 29 July indicating that admission formalities have been completed. The timeframe for students to complete this — a process in which the student concerned is also a signatory — is a near impossible task.
It involves a further cascading effect if it isn’t completed within the allotted time. In spite of a student complying with admission formalities, if any admission is not reported online within stipulated reporting time the seat in question will be declared free for reallocation. Apart from creating confusion, such a situation could lead to legal complications that could jeopardise the entire allotment process and delay the start of classes in many colleges.
How this process managed to escape the West Bengal government&’s scrutiny before the timetable could be approved is difficult to understand.
   What is more confusing is that the time span allowed to students to declare themselves at designated centres to get allotment letters to their college of choice is too liberal. After each round, there are a bulk of dates just to report or withdraw from reporting centres. The first round is from 15-19 July (four days), the second round is from 22-24 July (three days), the third round is from 27-29 July (three days) and the fourth is on 31 July (one day). So 11 days have been kept for remote admissions whereas just four days (including two weekend days) are available for actual admissions.
It is felt that a tighter schedule at reporting centres could have allowed more time for admission rounds in colleges. For the record, colleges are involved in huge cash and other transactions while reporting centres deal with verification and collection of documents. Working days are not mandatory for reporting centres whereas at colleges these are necessary.
There is another practical difficulty that has been overlooked. After the third round of counselling, remote admission at a reporting centre is allowed till 5 pm, the same time that colleges close, on 29 July. So how can a student applying for “remote admission” at a reporting centre in a district around closing time report and complete formalities in a college that is located far away?
Apart from the timetable, a more serious issue arises from the West Bengal Freeship Scheme. It is commendable that for the last few years a serious attempt has been made to provide students from economically weaker sections of society with an opportunity to join private colleges and realise their dreams of studying engineering. However, the determination of student eligibility needs to be critically monitored.
An annual family income of less than Rs 2.50 lakh is the ceiling that has been fixed to grant freeship status. However, parents engaged in non-organised sectors are, in some cases, misusing the provisions to enroll their wards in the WBFS category. The stipulation of obtaining certification from local government officials is, at times, made through contacts. Some strong measures like a provision to penalise students and their parents with false declarations need to be introduced.
This corruption goes against the basic preamble. A candidate misusing the provisions deprives a genuine candidate from getting a scholarship. Also, the fast growing numbers of students in the WBFS list indicate that there could be a laxity in the process.   Worse still, there is no monitoring system by which an allotted student can be assured of getting a WBFS scholarship. Many aspirants enrolled in the scheme believe that their scholarship is assured once they get admitted into a college. When this doesn’t happen, it&’s put down to just his/her bad luck that the number of scholarships was exhausted before he/she appeared on the merit list.
On the other hand, students are sometimes unable to take the risk and opt for a lower ranked college just to be certain of the scholarship. They are heartbroken once they find out later that WBFS seats were available in a better college. This year, the West Bengal University of Technology has been given the responsibility of overseeing this procedure. Rather than passing the buck, the state government&’s Higher Education Department could have monitored the process and evolved a foolproof system for WBFS allotments.
All said and done, unless some serious rethinking is done, the counselling process in West Bengal could end in a fiasco this year.