Almost 10 per cent of the official student population was not found in schools during the census conducted last week
After the disclosure of the Nanded scam left it with egg on its face, the state Education Department was quick to regain its composure and announce an ambitious statewide video census at schools, which was concluded last week. And the statistics are quiter shocking: during the census, as many as 19 lakh students were found to be missing in the schools. Although teachers marked them 'absent', officials of the state education are wagering that these 'absentees' are nothing but bogus students shown on record by school administrators to swindle funds, calculated at Rs 2, 565 crore, 10 per cent of the allocated budget for School Education in the state.
Pic for representation
Officials of the department are now working on overdrive to confirm their hunch, with Cabinet Minister for Education Rajendra Darda ordering a school-by-school check to corroborate the figures.
Officials are racking their brains to figure out a foolproof method with which to distinguish between genuine absentees and sham students. It is difficult to believe that as many as 19 lakh (almost 10 per cent) of the student population fell sick, or bunked school, during the drive. For all technical purposes, these students will be counted on paper as 'ghost' students, put on records by school authorities to swindle funds allocated to the education budget.
"Even while granting school authorities a small leeway of about 3-4 per cent for discrepancies, officials are finding it hard to believe that as many as 19 lakh students of the official 2.01 crore total were genuine absentees," said an official of the education department on condition of anonymity.
Darda is said to believe that at least 6-7 per cent of these absentees are sham students, shown on records to pocket funds. This would mean that a whopping sum of Rs 2,565 crore has been filling the coffers of unscrupulous education officials, in a racket far greater in magnitude than the one recently exposed in Nanded district. This sum comprises no less than 10 per cent of the total allocated annual School Education budget of Rs 27,500 crore.
The figures indicate that while about 1.82 of the 2.01 crore recorded students materialised in flesh and body during the census, the remaining 1.76 lakh remained mere names in the school roles. Assuming that an average of 30,000 students didn't make it to schools from the Yavatmal district (figures from this district are still pending), the number of total absentees comfortably crosses the 19-lakh mark.
"We will have to dig deeper and determine the accurate number of students who were genuine absentees, and deduce the number of bogus students from that," Darda told MiD DAY, adding, "We will verify the figures by going from school to school. If this is done carefully, the percentage of ghost students could well rise to 15-20 per cent, from the present 10 per cent. I have drawn up and distributed a format to officials of the department, following which they can obtain exact data from each and every school."
Darda also hinted that the drive, if successful, could save the government crores of moolah, as the elimination of ghost students would mean that they it has to cough up less funds. This is desirable more so because the state is planning to provide grants to private schools in the near future.
All in vain?
To ensure an impartial drive, the state government had appointed district collectors to form teams with officials from the Revenue department, keeping education department officials out of the loop. In course of the drive, the Ministry had also imposed Section 144 at districts, to ensure that droves of students were not ferried from one part of the state to another, to be passed off as pupils in different schools. Students were made to submit their thumbprints in ink, so that they could not register themselves more than once.
The total number of schools that came under the purview of the census