Education News

Maharashtra: Another beginning

The perennially beleaguered Pune-based Film & Television Institute of India (FTII) — the country’s premier film production, direction, cinematography, and sound recording training institute (estb.1960) — is back in the news. High-profile and well-respected film director Saeed Akhtar Mirza has been appointed president of the FTII Society and chairman of its governing council, an appointment which has been well-received by FTII’s strike-prone students community. During the past ten years students of the institute have called strikes on seven occasions on issues spanning FTII’s governance structure, raising student intake, tuition fees and infrastructure adequacy.

Last November they launched a two-week on-campus agitation to protest the Delhi-based Hewitt Association’s proposal to upgrade this 41-year-old Central government-funded institution which sprawls over 21 acres of prime real estate in Pune but accommodates a mere 300-350 students in crumbling hostels with its annual intake restricted to 172 postgrad students per year, to “international status”. The sticking point for FTII’s students was that a public-private partnership was the pre-condition of the institutional transformation which would result in sharp tuition fee increases. Currently tuition fees for the institute’s 12 full-time programmes range from Rs.33,000-2 lakh per year — about a fifth of prevailing prices in private sector film institutes.

The consequence of FTII’s history of student strikes and agitations is that indiscipline in the institute — which boasts several distinguished alumni including film directors Shyam Benegal, Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Mahesh Bhatt and cine actors Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi and Jaya Bachchan — is rife. One of Mirza’s first challenges is to clear the backlog of 15 students who are still residing on campus despite completion of their 36-month study programmes.

“Our immediate priority is to implement the detailed project report prepared by a group of experts headed by well-known film director P.K. Nair which made several recommendations relating to upgradation of syllabus and infrastructure. FTII should be design-ated a centre of excellence and institute of national importance. We wish to achieve this goal through an Act of Parliament, as a result of which the institute will get the dignity it deserves,” says Mirza, who was appointed director on March 24 by a notification of the Union ministry of information and broadcasting (I&B).

As a graduate of the institute and an individual knowledgeable about the needs and trends of the film and television industry, Mirza is perceived by mandarins of the I&B ministry to possess the expertise to address the core issues confronting FTII. According to him, they are faculty shortage, outdated curriculums and a funds crunch. That’s why the ministry has sanctioned Rs.11.32 crore as plan (capex) expenditure and Rs.13.5 crore as non-plan expenditure. “The ministry is willing to give us more money under special grants, provided we justify the demand as per our needs,” he says.

The capex amount will fund a state-of-the-art classroom fitted with the latest 5.1 Dolby sound system, seven new high-definition video cameras, four basic digital cameras, and seven computers equipped with the latest versions of editing software, Final Cut Pro.

But while the capex allocation will suffice for upgrading the run-down infrastructure of the 21-acre FTII campus, it is insufficient for its proposed additional campus and construction of new hostel facilities.

However, Mirza is dead-set against raising student tuition fees. “FTII needs to attract the country’s best postgrads from across the socio-economic spectrum who will bring varied perspectives into cinema, television and communication. This is the formula to improve and upgrade Indian cinema and television which will enrich Indian society. Therefore rather than a profit centre, FTII needs to be transformed into a national centre of excellence, beyond a mere technical institute where an expert faculty will nurture highly creative film-makers and directors who will create a global market for Indian films. This will require generous annual grants to the institute which a sub-committee is quantifying currently. But I’m confident we’ll get them,” says Mirza.

Yet in real — as opposed to reel — life, a happy ending is unlikely to be as easily scripted.

Huned Contractor (Pune)

Criminal paradox

Afflicted with a plethora of scams and scandals in recent times, the western seaboard state of Maharashtra (pop. 112 million) — the country’s second most populous and most industrialised state accounting for 25 percent of India’s industrial output — is also fast transforming into a haven for organised crime and criminals.

Last year, 208,168 IPC (Indian Penal Code) and 336,108 SLL (special and local laws) crimes were recorded in the state with 94,894 and 144,639 respect-ively pending investigation. Records maintained by the state’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) indicate that registered crimes have risen 18 percent in the past five years with economic offences risen 5 percent, crimes against women 8.3 percent, sexual harassment 10 percent, and human trafficking 11 percent.

Comparative statistics (2009) of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) list Maharashtra as the country’s most notorious state for thefts (50,930), burglary (15,841), riots and arson (9,135), robbery (3,314) and dacoity (780). Moreover it’s pertinent to note that these statistics relate to registered offences against the state and society. With Maharashtra’s 165,683 police stations and personnel notorious for their reluctance to register crimes, it can safely be assumed that an equal number of crimes in all categories have been committed without being registered.

Against this backdrop of an alarming increase in crimes and criminal activity in India’s most industrial state, the latest NCRB data indicates that the conviction rates are 9.6 percent for IPC crimes, the lowest in the country, and 18.8 percent for SLL crimes, the second lowest countrywide. Quite evidently the crime detection and solving capabilities of the Maharashtra State Police — which is obliged to present credible forensic and other evidence in courts of law to secure convictions — are abysmal.

Yet paradoxically postgraduates of the Mumbai-based Institute of Forensic Sciences (IFS), which has a branch in Aurangabad, are agitating against lack of employment opport-unities in the state. Established with considerable fanfare in August 2009, IFS offer a three-year B.Sc forensic science degree and one-year postgrad-uate diploma programmes in digital and cyber forensics and related laws to 460 students in the institute’s Mumbai and Aurangabad campuses. “We designed the syllabus after visiting some of the best forensic institutions in the US and UK,” says Dr. Rukmini Krishnamurthy, former director of the Directorate of Forensic Laboratories, Maharashtra, and technical adviser to IFS.

But despite IFS churning out 260 duly qualified forensic professionals ann-ually, the Directorate of Forensic Laboratories, which supervises opera-tions of five crime investigation and detection laboratories across the state, seems content to employ postgraduates with degrees in chemistry, biochemistry, or equivalent, with no formal training in forensic science. According to IFS alumni, currently 110 class I jobs in the directorate’s labs in Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Amravati and Aurangabad are vacant.

Comments Amol Hadkar, a post-graduate from IFS (2010-11): “The content of the course is good and the institute is the only one to offer professional qualifications in forensic science in the state. However I am looking for a job and haven’t come across any government opening as yet. After completing my course in April, I had applied to the Directorate of Forensic Laboratories, Maharashtra and am still awaiting their reply.”

Madhav Karve, Inspector General of Police (administration), and director general CID, offers a curious explanation for this paradoxical situation. “A basic degree in science is sufficient for the directorate’s professionals who are trained on the job. In any case, there are seniors to take care of more difficult forensic investigations. Moreover, we only send a few cases where we need to ascertain  cause of death for forensic analysis.”

Quite evidently IGP Karve is unaware that the world over — especially in OECD countries — the forensic sciences are employed in solving a whole range of cases including murder, rape, arson, terrorist activity etc and that forensic investigation has become indispensible for speedy and reliable crime detection and prosecution. In the circumstances it might be a good idea to compulsorily enrol police top brass in IFS for short-term programmes. Doing so will go a long way to ensure that crime doesn’t pay in India’s most industrialised — and arguably most criminalised — state.

Manas Srivastava (Mumbai)