New Delhi: Is one branch of Delhi Public School equal to another?
Parents across the country have grappled with this question for decades as they scoured admission options at the prestigious school chain for their children, pulling out connections and credentials to snag elusive seats.
Click here to listen to what Staff Writer Aparna Kalra has to say on the elite school chain
The DPS Society runs a network of 115 schools in India and 13 abroad.
In a letter to all owners of the schools, former president of the society, Congress party member and Supreme Court lawyer Salman Khurshid said a system where only 11 of those schools—owned and run by the society—have voting rights on its governing board is not fair to the franchise owners, who pay a fee for the right to use the DPS name and logo.
At the very least, Khurshid said, schools should have a right to vote for their governing body’s chairman and review the society’s finances.
This becomes significant as schools currently pay a royalty to the society of Rs5 lakh per year. The royalty is set to go up to Rs25 lakh, Khurshid said.
Discordant note: Salman Khurshid. Rajeev Dabral / Mint
“I am saying, no taxation without representation”, said Khurshid, asking the schools to stand united behind him.
“I cannot accept you as mere agents of DPS. Neither does our charter permit such a thing and what is more important is that public morality does not allow this. There cannot be ‘greater’ and ‘lesser’ DPS schools,” Khurshid—a DPS alumnus, member of the society since 1984 and its president for 12 years—wrote in his 16 August letter.
After the letter, the society, headed by chairman and retired bureaucrat Ashok Chandra, voted to throw Khurshid out.
One member said the dispute stems from Khurshid’s desire to be president of the society again, a role that is now not filled by anyone.
“Our rules and regulations say a member can be asked to withdraw on a month’s notice,” said Chandra of Khurshid’s dismissal.
He said the notice asking Khurshid to withdraw from the society went out on 1 September. Chandra declined to comment on any of Khurshid’s other allegations.
Intertwined in the fight between Khurshid and the society are issues ranging from the use of influence to secure admissions to expensive junkets enjoyed by society members at the expense of the schools.
The society’s members include Planning Commission deputy chairman and DPS alumnus Montek Singh Ahluwalia, author Khushwant Singh and governor of Haryana A.R. Kidwai, along with retired bureaucrats and judges.
Its other members include principals of the 11 DPS schools owned by the society, including DPS R.K. Puram principal Shyama Chona, a well-known face in education circles. Chona declined to comment.
The DPS network, which started with DPS Mathura Road two years after India’s independence, has expanded swiftly in the last two decades to put its schools in nearly all major cities in the country, through a system by which DPS Society allows independent entrepreneurs to run schools using the DPS brand name and logo.
The society also nominates five members to the management board of each school.
Schools, whose empowerment Khurshid is advocating, are keeping a low profile in this fight for fear of losing the society’s membership.
“We have no role to play. It is 100% an internal matter,” said Sunil Agarwal, owner of the Agra School Society, which runs DPS Agra.
Agarwal’s main business is running a microfinance company, SE Investments Ltd.
Meenakshi Singh, owner of DPS Sushant Lok and daughter of former bureaucrat and current member of Parliament N.K. Singh, said, “We have benefited from DPS (Society), but DPS has also benefited from us.”
She said that four DPS schools—hers, DPS Agra, DPS Vadodara and DPS Panipat—had set up a forum, but declined comment on what it was for.
Khurshid said he was aware of the existence of this forum and that it was for pressing for DPS schools’ demands such as opposition to a hike in royalty.
In a four-hour interview in his office last week, Khurshid accused the society of spending crores on the unnecessary wining and dining of its own members.
The power that the members enjoy extends to each school, and several of them, barring busy ones such as Ahluwalia and Khushwant Singh, average two visits a week to DPS schools scattered all over the country.
The hospitality that members expect, said Khurshid, includes stays in 5-star hotels and business-class travel on airlines.
While society chairman Chandra refused to respond to these charges, S.L. Dhawan, who enjoys life membership of the society, and was principal of DPS Mathura Road when Khurshid was the head boy, was more than willing to take on his former pupil in what he described as a power struggle.
“He wanted to be president (of the society) again,” said Dhawan, referring to Khurshid. “Ask him was he travelling in economy class?”
Khurshid could not be reached for comment late Wednesday to discuss what perks came with his DPS Society membership and presidency.
Dhawan pointed out that he has visited many schools where he stayed in a small guest house; indeed, some members have no option as the brand name grows into a coveted one in smaller towns and cities.
The DPS Society largely seems unwilling to involve the franchisee schools in greater decision-making, as suggested by Khurshid.
“They have no business having voting rights because there are people (here), who have given their blood,” said Dhawan.
Membership to the society not only comes with travel perks—but also influence. As parents nationwide jockey for ever-more-competitive admissions, knowing a society member can pave their path to admissions in the DPS schools.
Khurshid, along with his wife Louise, said he maintains a massive record dating back to 1991 of people who have referred parents to him and who he has helped gain seats.
The names on his list include railway minister Lalu Prasad, whose son gained admission to a DPS school with Khurshid’s help, and Subrata Roy, owner of the Sahara group, whose two sons gained seats in DPS Mathura Road.
Mint could not independently verify if these claims were true.
Prasad’s media consultant declined comment, saying only that the statement must be true if Khurshid made it.
A Sahara group spokesman did not reply to an email sent earlier in the week for comment.
“I am a public figure. People do ask me to help them with admissions and I do help them. But a record is kept of every single admission,” said Khurshid.
“I have had prime ministers call me.”