Education in country's heaven - the hell we care!

In Jammu and Kashmir, poor implementation, lack of monitoring and allegations of irregularities have led to a directionless Sarv Shikhsha Abhiyan

Shujaat Bukhari | February 1, 2014




Government of India’s flagship programme for universalisation of education has constantly been in news in Jammu and Kashmir for quite some time. The Sarv Shikhsha Abhiyan (SSA) had been launched with much fanfare with an objective to benefit lakhs of students, particularly those who live in rural areas and do not have easy access to education. But due to its poor implementation, lack of monitoring and allegations of irregularities, the scheme seems to be directionless in the state.

During his recent visit to Srinagar, human resource development minister Kapil Sibal was cornered, as he was flooded with complaints about poor implementation of these otherwise “revolutionary” schemes, which have the potential to change the face of educational opportunities on the ground. He had no option but to tell a news conference that “we are making inquiries. I am aware that some reports about it have appeared and I have directed my secretary to find out what has exactly happened”.

Sibal said that there has been liberal funding to Jammu and Kashmir in all schemes and the funding had been increased from 0.9 percent to 2.7 percent. He was surprised to note that there was poor response to '1,200 crore prime minister’s special scholarship scheme for Jammu and Kashmir students as only 400 had applied as against a slot for 5,000. This was due to lack of coordination between the state and central governments in absence of accountability.
With Jammu and Kashmir facing a financial crunch with low resource mobilisation within the state, the schemes such as SSA could have given a boost to development and covered a major area. Notwithstanding the official assertion that scheme was going in the right direction, the SSA has not lived up to the expectations on the ground. It became clear during a recent meeting of project approval board (PAB) in Delhi in which state was virtually at the receiving end. The board rejected outright the state government’s proposal of opening 573 new primary schools and upgrading 285 existing schools to upper level in the financial year 2012-13. The PAB meeting has pulled up the state for “flawed and sluggish implementation of centrally-sponsored SSA”. The PAB is convened by MHRD every year around May to consider the Annual Work Plan and Budget (AWP&B) for SSA, KGBV and NPEGEL for individual states. Sources said that the proposal was not substantiated by a detailed action plan and the number of children who would benefit in case the upgradations and opening of new schools was approved. The meeting also noted that similar schools sanctioned in the past are yet to be operationalised. But state maintains that all 397 schools were made functional by March 2012. ?

The project approval board noted that only 7 percent of the target of bringing the out-of-school children into the scheme’s fold had been achieved which was a dismal affair. Sources privy to the meeting maintained that the PAB pointed out J&K had a target of 33,151 out-of-school-children to bring them to school in 2011-12. “It could only cover 2,461 children (7% of the target). This is a cause of concern.”?In 2012-13 proposal, the target of covering such children had been pegged at 43,153. The rejection of proposal by the state has not only caused a huge loss to the state in the form of funding from centre but it would also put to halt at least 2,200 jobs the educated unemployed youth would get after the new schools are opened and the existing ones upgraded.

There are 4,545 posts of teachers available in the state under SSA quota. But with poor implementation, over 12,000 vacancies are unlikely to be filled. A top official said that it was difficult to see that state would be able to spend '1,200 crore earmarked for SSA for the current fiscal year. While '600 crore comes under central share the state share would be around '550 crore. In 2011, the state had been criticised for poor implementation of SSA but it took recourse to “extremely disturbed conditions in 2010” and was given “benefit” of that situation.

State assembly’s public accounts committee (PAC) also took the state government to task for poor implementation of the scheme. In its 2011-12 report, the PAC noted “the department has neither allocated/released the funds as per prescribed norms nor has it spent the released funds in toto”.  “As a result of negligence on part of chief education officers (CEOs) in implementing SSA, funds remained unutilised in their accounts,” it said, adding that there was lack of coordination between CEOs and higher authorities and the utilisation certificates were found biased.

Not only in case of SSA but the state was put in an embarrassing position when human resource development ministry asked it to return '2.64 crore, utilised in violation of the norms, along with 10 percent interest. The HRD ministry in a communication to the J&K government has sought refund of '2.46 crore along with 10 percent interest which were diverted for unapproved activities by the school education department. The interest has been charged in the wake of the state government failing to return the central funds diverted between 2001 and 2005.

In another shocker from the HRD ministry, it was decided to deduct the unspent money from the amount now payable to the J&K government under this scheme. During a recent meeting, the state project director Yasha Mudgal was asked to furnish the utilisation certificates for the period in question. But she expressed her inability saying that the money had already been given to the state education department. “This surely put the fresh funding into danger in case they decide to deduct the unspent money now,” a senior official said.

It is pertinent to mention that education portfolio is being looked after by chief minister Omar Abdullah after Congress leader Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed was divested of it last year following the allegations of unfair means used by his foster-son in board examination.

TAILPIECE: While the HRD ministry has taken a loud call on making the state accountable, it seems to be in deep slumber. The SSA website has not been updated. While the present state project director has been in office for nearly two years, the website still shows “Khurshid Ahmad Reshi” as director who has since retired. And state SSA has no website of its own!

(Bukhari is a senior journalist based in Srinagar)
(This article appeared in October 1-15, 2012 edition of the magazine)
 

 

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