Troubles, they say, never come alone. At a time when the Punjab government is rocked by the library books purchase scam, the Centre has slashed drastically its allocation of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) fund, from which the dubious purchase was made in a tearing hurry.
The union ministry of human resource development (MHRD) has sanctioned a budget of Rs. 776 crore under the centrally-sponsored flagship programme against a budget proposal of Rs. 1,916 crore that the state authorities had submitted for the year 2013-14. The cut imposed by the ministry is severe.
Punjab had been sanctioned Rs. 1,069 crore last year, 40% more than the current year's outlay. The department had spent roughly 76% of the allocated sum.
Education minister Sikander Singh Maluka had raised the questions about the utility of the centrally-funded schemes in present form, and now when the reduction in allocation because of his "making money" from the same scheme is a setback to the state government, he may cry foul.
The biggest cut is imposed on the money for civil works (construction activity) in elementary schools. Against Rs. 720 crore that the state government had sought, the HRD ministry sanctioned only Rs. 51 crore.
While money has been granted for 23 new primary schools and 15 upper primary schools to improve access to education and build a neighborhood school each in all habitations under the Right to Education (RTE) Act, the proposal for constructing 4,729 more classrooms in primary (Classes 1 to 5) and upper primary (Classes 6 to 8) schools in rural and urban areas, boundary walls of schools, and office-cum-head teacher's rooms in primary schools has been turned down.
After a household survey in December 2012, the education department had identified 17,414 schoolchildren in the age group of 6 to 14 (4,271 of them being in Ludhiana alone).
While it sought Rs. 9 crore for their special training, bridge course etc., the ministry has allowed just about half of it. The demand of the state government for Rs. 196 crore (Rs 1,000 for each child) for giving uniform free of cost to all elementary-class children, including those from families living above the poverty line, has been ignored.
The state had asked for extra funds for "good" quality uniform for schoolchildren but the ministry has sanctioned Rs. 68 crore, for the uniform of all girls and children from the Scheduled Castes and below poverty
line categories, at the standard price of Rs. 400 per child.
The appraisal team had also raised the issue of closure of 1,100 schools in the past 10 years. In 2012, 40 primary schools and four upper primary schools, most of them run by the education department and local bodies, had been closed mainly because of non-availability of children.
Library grant was about to lapse
For three years, the Punjab government kept sitting on the one-time library grant for primary and upper primary schools before it made a mess of the book-purchase process.
The state authorities had sought approval from the union ministry of human resource development for using the grant of Rs. 9.28 crore in the financial year 2013-14. "All issues regarding the purchase of books have been sorted out and the books will be purchased soon positively," the state education department wrote in its proposal submitted in the third week of March, urging the ministry to allow the grant as spillover.
The HRD ministry's appraisal team rejected the request immediately thereafter. Its officials also contest the state school education department's claim regarding the release of grant on March 28, saying that the first instalment was released to the state in the beginning of the year 2012-13.
"If the state agency wanted, it could have used the funds for library books immediately after release of the first instalment last year. The ministry does not release funds for any specific activity," they said.
The grant was sanctioned in the year 2010-11 to let 12,378 primary schools purchase books worth Rs. 3,000 each. Similarly, 5,569 schools were allowed purchase of books worth Rs. 10,000 each.