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Food for thought

A government may start a welfare scheme with abundant good intentions. But if it does not have good people to implement it, the scheme will unravel and become another money-guzzling dud. The new government in Assam has started an education scheme that promises to become a model for the entire country if implemented properly. It wants to make higher education free for poor students. A student whose family’s annual income is less than Rs 1 lakh can study from Class 11 through 3-year graduation course in all streams without paying admission, monthly and other fees. Now an annual income of Rs 1 lakh translates to a monthly income of approximately Rs 8,333, so even a 4-5 member family is really hard up if its earnings are less than this amount. Their only reliable passport to a better life is education for their children. If that education is made free by government support, one can imagine the tremendous succor for such families. But a section of government servants have no patience with such laudable aims. This is sadly true in capital Dispur itself. Recently poor students and guardians had an unpleasant experience at the Dispur revenue circle office. They were standing in long queues with relevant papers to get their income certificates. To their dismay, some employees were demanding ‘rates’ of Rs 200 to issue the certificate. Filly, the circle officer had to seal off sections like the ‘toroni sangha’ and suspend licenses of some of them. Ugly scenes like this are playing out in mauzadar and revenue offices across the State, with officials thinking nothing of charging sums like Rs 500 from poor students. Anyone who has to approach a land revenue office in connection with land or real estate transaction knows what cesspits of corruption these offices are. But to demand bribes from poor students shows how utterly callous most of their officials have become. Ruthless greed only partially explains such behavior. The bigger reason seems to be the firm conviction among such public officials that anyone and everyone who wishes to avail of government service must pay them ‘rent’. There is no reason for the public to tolerate such malpractices; the duty of victimized people is to spread the information about such goings-on. So long as the media remains vigilant and the government responsive, such rent-seeking public officials can be taught a lesson.