How much money has the Central government released for Assam for Sarba Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) in the current year? Not a single rupee, according to State Education minister Sarat Barkataky. Giving vent to his frustration before the media recently, the minister also alleged that while the Centre keeps holding meetings ostensibly to keep pressing forward with the universal elementary education mission, it also keeps a tight hand on the purse-strings. Meanwhile, official work under the mission is grinding inexorably to a halt in the State as bills remain uncleared. Whenever State education officials take up the issue of non-release of funds with Central factotums, they are met with stony silence, Barkataky has alleged. It appears that other states too share misgivings whether the NDA government is at all committed to the SSA. Fielding this query in Lok Sabha last week, Union Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani gave the standard reply that SSA is a continuing mission with Central support, for which total funds to the tune of Rs 1,92, 726 crore were earmarked by the Planning Commission in consultation with states for the 12th five-year plan ending this fiscal. She admitted that release of funds for SSA in the current fiscal has not yet begun, which is hardly surprising, considering the time consumed in the entire budgeting exercise. But since the Planning Commission has been scrapped and the process of making five-year plans discarded from the next fiscal onwards, the HRD minister’s reply gave little hint about how the Centre plans to go about imparting free and compulsory elementary education up to Class VIII as a fundamental right to all citizens in the years ahead. Enshrined in 2009, it is this Right to Education that lends its weight of constitutiol guarantee to the SSA. Irani, however, revealed that apart from the eight NE states, three more states mely Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand too are being provided SSA funds under the 90:10 formula; as for the other states, they are getting SSA funds under 60:40 revised formula from 2015-16 onwards, which was 65:35 earlier. So is this a sign that the Centre wants to gradually shift more of the primary education burden onto the states, with education, after all, being a state subject? It would have happened to Assam as well had not Dispur voiced strenuous opposition and maged to remain under the 90:10 funding formula.
Assam, however, continues to languish in primary education; the District Information System for Education report for 2015-16 has painted a grim picture of government school manpower and infrastructure. Lower Primary schools (class I to V) in the State alone need 11,416 more teachers while Upper Primary schools (class V to VIII) are going without 6,575 teachers. As many as 3,638 LP and UP schools have but a single teacher, so the classes have to wait their turn for the teacher and the school close when he or she goes on leave. The State government does not have funds to recruit teachers to fill up vacant posts, with the situation worse compounded by lack of ratiolization in postings. As for basic infrastructure like boundary walls, drinking water, libraries and teaching aids in government primary schools, the situation is bleak indeed. The SSA mission director for Assam Dr Thaneswar Malakar, at a tiol level semir in Guwahati recently, furnished some alarming figures about how the mission is actually faring in the State. Presently there are around 100 primary schools in the State with zero student enrolment; many such schools are being closed down for good. There has been no recruitment of language teachers in many Assamese and other language medium schools across the State. Over Rs 100 crore is being spent to prepare 53 lakh textbooks in 10 languages every year, yet students are not benefited as teachers are lacking. To aggravate matters, many teachers, particularly in venture schools, lack requisite qualifications and training, Dr Malakar has lamented. Given this depressing scerio, is it at all surprising that parents and guardians from lower income strata too are shunning government schools, seeking to educate their wards at near unsustaible expense at private schools? For them, it is a double whammy from both State and Central levels. By allowing massive fund leakage and displaying little commitment to SSA, the State government has been beating a shameful retreat in ensuring education as a fundamental right. Emboldened by this chronic failure in Assam and other states, the Central government is displaying unmistakable signs of getting the states cough up more funds towards education. As citizens find themselves unwilling or uble to approach the government to enforce their fundamental right to education, the door is opening to the private sector by default.