Around 35 counsellors who are on contract with the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) Education Board’s unique project of counselling students of Stds I to VII, which was started four years ago, have not been paid their dues for the past two months. Currently, 80,000 students of 170 of the 309 PMC-run schools are covered by the project and the present budget is Rs 25 lakh. For the academic year 2013-2014, however, the education board has proposed a Rs 85 lakh budget to cover all 309 schools.
Vyaktitwa Vikas Prabodhini, an NGO managing the project since the last four years, is not happy with the way the education board is functioning with its project.
“Every year, the budget for the project changes suddenly, which forces us to either reduce the number of counsellors or number of schools we cover. In the current academic year, the board has sanctioned Rs 25 lakh, which is sufficient. But 35 of our counsellors have not received their monthly payment of Rs 8,000 each for the last two months,” Dr Bharat Desai, chairperson of Vyaktitwa Vikas Prabodhini said.
All the counsellors participating in the project have completed their masters in psychology. “In the end of September, we got payment for the month of July. We are not sure when we will receive payment for August and September. I have been working in three PMC schools as a counsellor from the last year. But I don’t think I will continue as payments are not on time,” said a female counsellor on condition of anonymity.
As all the counsellors working on the project are on contractual basis, the education board does not pay them for the summer vacation and all public holidays.
“Our project starts in July and ends in April when the summer vacation starts. We don’t get a single rupee for the remaining two months. Besides that, our payment is cut, as we do not get paid for public holidays. The board cuts payments, which is not right,” said Desai.
When contacted, Education Board Chairperson Pradeep Dhumal said, “Recently, I have cleared the file of payments for August. All the counsellors will receive salary for August
When asked how the board can suddenly propose an increase in the counselling budget from Rs 25 lakh to Rs 85 lakh, he said, “Right now, only 170 schools are beneficiaries of this project. But from next academic year, the project will extended to all 309 PMC education board schools.”
PMC’s Education Board deputy chief Shilpkala Randhve said that from next year the project will also include psychological testing. “Right now, school children receive counselling sessions, but this is not enough. That’s why we have decided to include psychological testing and for that we have proposed an increase in the budget for the project,” Randhve said.
The PMC education board started the counselling project in 2008-09 with a budget of Rs 15 lakh and 20 counsellors. The next year (2009-10), the budget was increased to Rs 25 lakh and the number of counsellors also increased to 40. But in 2011-12, the board abruptly decided to cut short funds to Rs 15 lakh and asked that the number of counsellors be decreased to 15. In the current academic year and with a Rs 25 lakh budget, 35 counsellors are covering 170 schools. With its proposed Rs 85 lakh budget plan, the board wants all 1.17 lakh students studying in 309 education board schools in the city to be covered in the counselling project.
The counselling project was started to address behavioural issues of students. Most students in education board schools hail from economically backward families and counselling was seen as an option to focus on problematic children and to hold similar sessions with the parents.