For two years, Punjab failed to use the grant for library books under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), and now when Rs 9.28 crore is being used, it's going into the pockets of an obscure supplier forced upon schools in violation of rules.
Worse, the books are being supplied for almost double the market rate, and many titles have little to do with children or their potential interests. Some carry adult songs objectifying women and lessons in how to raise children.
The SSA guidelines suggest that the school management committees are to spend the money (Rs 3,000 for each primary school and Rs 10,000 for each upper primary school) on books they find fit. State director general of school education (DGSE) Kahan Singh Pannu, who governs the SSA in Punjab, issued a circular on March 31 that the committees could choose books from the state's language department catalogue. The choice was limited, but the DGSE said he wanted to use the grant "that we got on March 28 actually".
However, in a questionable parallel development, the director, public instructions (DPI), elementary, issued a letter on March 22, "nominating" a private company, Friends Enterprises of Ratia Road in Sardulgarh (Mansa), to supply books to all primary and upper primary schools. On March 3, DPI (E) Pritpal Kaur had issued a notice in a low-circulation Hindi newspaper, inviting bids for the supply of books, after which came this "authorisation" of Friends Enterprises. Under which scheme, and against what funds? That is not mentioned in the DPI's letter or the tender notice.
Carrying this letter, further signed by the district education officers (DEO) at many places such as SAS Nagar (Ajitgarh), the company's representatives already have handed bundles of books to schools across districts, which violates not only the DGSE's circular but also the SSA rules that give schools the autonomy to pick books to buy.
Teachers at one of the recipient schools in SAS Nagar said the company's men had come with pre-made invoices with only "one set of library books" written over. The verbal directions to buy these books are from the block and district level, the sources said.
HT has copies of many bills that carry two telephone numbers, and calls to both went unanswered over the past two days. In Hoshiarpur, a teacher said the company had supplied the respective school with a set of 55 books for Rs 10,000, money that's enough to buy 100 books at least.
While DPI (E) Prithpal Kaur went incommunicado, principal secretary (education) Anjali Bhawra said she was aware of the matter and had told the DGSE to investigate it. DGSE Pannu said the DPI (E)'s recommendation letter was not related to the SSA.
The DPI (E), sources said, was on a three-member committee that education minister Sikander Singh Maluka had formed late last year for empanelling a book supplier. Maluka said: "I had asked for giving first preference to the language department, and this company was empanelled after the DPI had issued tenders, as we wanted a wider choice and to raise the education standards." He denied that the schools were being forced to buy set sets, and said he would look into the allegation of overpricing.
Question of price
Mansa company Friends Enterprises has got two of the books in its set from two Amritsar publishers. The books published by Warish Shah Foundation and Chatar Singh Jeevan Singh, and supplied to schools carry prices much over those printed on the editions on the market.
For instance, particular story books are available for Rs 70 (paperback) and Rs 150 (hardback) each on the market, but the hardback editions supplied in this case is for Rs 270 each. The publishers said they were simply supplying an order to Friends Enterprises.