A judicial inquiry may have been ordered into the purchase scams in the Punjab education department, but minister Sikander Singh Maluka's parallel cover-up is also underway.
At the heart of the scam is financial and procedural corruption, but the director, public instructions, secondary (DPI-S) Kamal Garg issued a letter on May 25 to all schools to form two-member panels and check the content of all books supplied in 2013 to primary and upper primary schools within five days. Counting out the weekend (May 25-26), that has left the schools barely three days, ending on Wednesday, to "thoroughly examine" the 70-80 books.
The task sounds humungous, but there are doubts over the intention. Sources said the schools are being pressured to give the all-clear report, as it was the alleged vulgar and irrelevant content that had first led to a controversy over the books supplied at inflated prices by a shadily "nominated" firm to pocket the Rs 9.28-crore Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) grant. It was later that the financial irregularities surfaced not only in the books but also in science kits and map books.
As for the books, the director general of school education (DGSE) had asked schools to make their own choice from the language department catalogue, but private firm Friends Enterprises (in reality, a pipe factory from Sardulgarh in Mansa), forced its books on the school by flashing a vague "nomination" letter issued by Maluka's handpicked three-member panel led by the director, public instructions (DPI, elementary). That panel has since been suspended.
The letter made no mention of SSA expressly, but the firm took SSA cheques using the letter and verbal orders from district-level officers.
Strangely, while the "vulgarity" and irrelevance some books are Masters-level texts - was detected in the books supplied by the Maluka-picked firm, the minister not only sent a notice to that firm but also acted against language department officials and even "cautioned" the DGSE who had asked schools to pick their own books.
As for the Friends Enterprises' books, a four-member academic panel had already given the all-clear to them before supply. That panel included members from Maluka's bastion in Bathinda, one of them a teacher from his village school.
Now, getting another all-clear for the books' quality may help the private firm, besides handing the scandal machine led by Maluka a chance to divert the matter towards the content again.
At some places, the May 25 check-the-books order has been forwarded to schools only on May 28 (copy with HT); the content report is to be given by May 30. Efforts to contact the DPI-S about the order bore no fruit.