In October last year, it was time for authorities of school across the state to face a test for a change, when the state government subjected their records to scrutiny and then conducted a video census to verify if the number of students on their rolls corresponded with the ones in their classrooms. The state government is now busy drawing up sufficient punishment for schools that failed to make the grade. In what could be the most iron-fisted decision taken by it yet, the Congress-NCP government has decided to shut down 2,600 schools which had failed to produce over 50 per cent of the students that they showed on their rolls.
Of the 2,600 schools that face derecognition for their failure to match the numbers, 97 are primary schools located in the Mumbai metropolis – of these, 65 are from the island city and 32 from the suburban regions. The state cabinet, in a recent meeting chaired by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, decided to derecognise the schools as well as initiate criminal proceedings against the school management and their principals. The state was spending about Rs 1,263 crore on these non-existent students each year. The government’s stand was made clear in a statement issued by the CM in the State Assembly and the Deputy CM Ajit Pawar in the State Council.
The decision could cause great upheavals in the political world, as most of the schools are run by politicians across party lines. The cabinet had on two occasions discussed the matter, but had failed to arrive at a consensus earlier. In course of the special school census conducted in the first week of October last year, it was discovered that 10.16 per cent students were ‘absent’ in over 1 lakh schools across the state. (‘19 lakh students: Absentees or bogus?’ MiD DAY, October 13) In Mumbai city, 30 schools failed to produce 50-59 per cent students, while in another 20 schools between 60 and 69 per cent students were absent. In three schools, 70-79 per cent students were missing, 80-89 per cent students did not report in one school, while 90-100 per cent non-attendance was reported at 11 schools. Similarly, in the Mumbai suburban district, 22 schools failed to produce 50-59 per cent students. In eight schools, 60-69 per cent students were absent, while one school showed 70-79 per cent absence, another managed to produce only 10-19 per cent attendants.
Confirming the details, School Education Minister Rajendra Darda said that the government would come down hard on schools that performed poorly in the census. It will soon be summoning written explanations from schools with over 10 per cent non-attendance. As an antidote to the growing problem of bogus names in school roles, the government will make it mandatory for students and teachers alike at all schools to have UID cards.
BMC-run schools fared quite poorly, with an average 18.5 per cent non-attendance. This has sent alarm bells ringing at the government level, as the civic body spends approximately Rs 2,000 crore for its schools every year. This could well mean that a substantial part of the amount is being pocketed by imaginary students, or at least those officials responsible for ‘dreaming’ them up. BMC provides school bags, uniforms, midday meals, scented milk and other facilities to its students.
Districts including Nanded, Parbhani, Dhule and Solapur have particularly high percentages of non-attendance. Districts like Sindhudurg, Ratnagiri, Satara, Kolhapur and Ahmednagar, however had healthy percentages of attendance. The state government revealed that all the trouble taken by its officers would pay off, as the census will allow it to save Rs 1,263 crore per annum – money that was being covertly stuffed into the spacious pockets of different school managements.
While the School Education department will save Rs 736 crore each year, schools controlled by Social Justice Department will have to spend Rs 391 crore less. But the Tribal Development department, at Rs 136 crore, will make the greatest save annually. The state had appointed a committee under Chief Secretary Ratnakar Gaikwad to suggest modalities of action to be taken against schools with poor percentages of attendance, and it recommended criminal proceedings against schools that scored less than 50 per cent. The committee also recommended that district collectors be instructed to conduct another round of scrutiny in schools were over 20 per cent students had not reported, and that the schools be derecognised if they were found unable to produce the ‘missing’ pupils even in this time.