Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his education minister Sikander Singh Maluka have been dismissive of the utility of several centrally-sponsored flagship programmes, especially in the education sector, in their present form.
The two leaders have publicly expressed their sentiments several times in recent months, but this has not deterred them from knocking at the Centre's doors for seeking a huge raise in allocation of funds to dress schoolchildren in the state. The state school education department has sought about Rs 196 crore from the union human resource development ministry (MHRD) for giving uniform free of cost to all children studying in classes 1 to 8 of the 18,000-odd government-run primary and upper primary schools in the state.
The state wants Rs 1,000 per child for giving free uniform, including trousers and shirt/salwar suit, turban/dupatta, shoes and socks, to more than 19.6 lakh boys and girls of elementary classes in its schools.
Though the Centre has a uniform fund allocation of Rs 400 per child under the elementary education programme for giving two sets of uniform to all girls and children belonging to Scheduled Castes and below-poverty-line (BPL) families every year in all states and union territories, the state government has informed the ministry that this amount is insufficient for purchasing "good quality" uniform for its schoolchildren.
The per-child uniform cost and fund requirement have been calculated on the basis of information gathered from the districts, state education department sources told Hindustan Times. While the Centre has provision of free uniform for schoolchildren belonging to poor and socially disadvantaged sections, the state government has asked for funds for all children enrolled in its schools, including those who belong to above-poverty-line families (APL) and backward classes (other than those covered under BPL) and do not require such doles from the taxpayer's money.
Incidentally, Maluka, whose department has sought additional funds for free uniform to children from APL families also, had only three months ago raised questions about the utility of centrally-sponsored education schemes, including the midday meal programme in Punjab.
"There is no great demand for meals in the schools as each family is capable of providing three meals to its children," he had said, despite high incidence of malnutrition among children in the state.
The SAD-BJP government has been pushing for direct transfer of funds to the state instead of the present system of fund allocation for centrally-sponsored programmes, where funds are tied to a scheme, performance monitored and recovery made from the state in case funds are spent in violation of the norms.
However, the Centre, which has set norms for granting funds to all states, is highly unlikely to meet the demand of the state to raise its fund allocation for free uniform to Rs 1,000 per child and allow it to distribute free uniform to children belonging to APL families and backward classes.
A ministry official said the Centre had fixed norms for sanctioning Rs 400 per child for this purpose. "In case there is additional requirement, the state may utilise its own funds. There is also the option of cash transfer to the joint savings bank account of the child and mother. The purpose of free school uniform is to inspire a sense of belonging to the school.
Since the uniform constitutes an expense which poor families are not able to afford, the funds are meant for only for those who need such assistance," he said.
What the state has sought
Cost (in Rs) Girls Boys
500 Salwar suit Trousers and shirt
50 Dupatta Turban/cap
200 Shoes and socks Shoes & socks
250 Sweater Sweater