Bleak board: a ‘scam’ to build ghost schools

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan money spent in a hurry raises schools forced to close soon

brajesh

Brajesh Kumar | November 6, 2012


Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan slogan on a wall
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan slogan on a wall

Media for Accountability It might be used as location for a war-ravaged building in a Bollywood film, so ruined does the primary school in Nayakheda hamlet of Sherwa village, in Reodar block of Sirohi district, look. The five rooms are in total shambles, with plaster peeling off the damp walls, as two steel almirahs lie rusting in one of the rooms. The name of the school, writ in black, is barely visible now, with some alphabets washed away in the rains.

Only some unreadable sentences on the two front blackboards suggest the school was in operation, at least for a while.

Giving the school company are two toilet blocks on either side, each built at a cost of Rs 40,000 as part of the Centre’s total sanitation campaign. Though in a shambles, the shining white tiles used in the toilet blocks indicate they were built recently, and in between these blocks is a hand pump.

Built in early 2007, the school was closed within a year, says Varju Devi, a resident of the hamlet next to the school. “There were not enough students,” she says, even before one could ask the reason for its closure. “There were at best 20-25 students, and one teacher, till the time it operated.”

Locals say the Reodar block alone has 30 such schools built under the Centre’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) scheme and are lying unused — Governance Now visited five such schools in ruins. 

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At a conservative estimate, Rs 5 lakh was spent on each such school, with an additional Rs 1 lakh or thereof on the hand pumps and toilets. Simple arithmetic says we are then looking at a figure of Rs 1.8 crore of taxpayer’s money washed down the drain.

This, mind you, is only one of the five blocks in the district. 

Why, then, would the government open schools at a place where there are no students and deliberately waste public money?

‘It’s a scam’
“It’s a scam under SSA,” says Brij Bhusan Sharma of SARAD, an NGO working in the block. “Once fund allocated under SSA reaches the district, it has to be spent and the targets met. So district officials sanction construction of school buildings in bulk without conducting any survey of the area and consulting the panchayats.”

The commission involved in constructing a school also plays a role in this flurry of sanctions. According Radhyshyam Sharma, a primary school teacher, officials of the education department earn at least Rs 1 lakh for raising each school building.

A senior government official admits that such schools should not have been sanctioned in the first place under SSA. 

Unfolded in 2001, SSA, the Centre’s flagship elementary education programme aimed at providing universal primary education to children between 6 and 14 years, there should be a primary school within a radius of 1 km, or a population of 300 people. But the school in Nayakheda had only 10 families to cater to.
Besides, a better-administered primary school already existed in Sherwa village, about 1.5 km from Nayakheda, at the time.

Not surprisingly, another school in Khadia hamlet, under Mithan village, catering to four families, is also closed for the last two years. 

The Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research’s report on SSA for 2008-11 offers some clue on the haste shown by government officials in sanctioning school buildings, offering insight into the last-minute rush to spend funds in a bid to meet annual targets. 

According to the report, only 37 percent of SSA’s expenditure was incurred in the first two quarters of 2008-09 fiscal, which means the remaining 68 percent was spent — mostly in a hurry — in the last two quarters. Rajasthan, along with Maharashtra, spent less than 30 percent in the first two quarters, and more than 70 percent between October 2008 and March 2009.

“If more than 70 percent of the fund has to be spent in the last few months of the financial year, such haste in sanctioning schools without proper consultation is not surprising at all,” says a senior government official at district headquarters Sirohi.  

Leaving the deserted primary school in Nayakheda, one finds the slogan of SSA painted on one of its walls: ‘Sarva Siksha Abhiya — Sab padhe, Sab badhe’, or education for all, progress for all.

While it’s not certain whether the scheme is enabling education for all, it certainly has led to progress at least for some.    

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