The state education department may have some tough questions to answer on how it has spent more than Rs100 crore shown as expenditure for buying books and uniforms for about 19 lakh students in public schools.
A census carried out by the state government last year had revealed that these students, though shown on the rolls in state schools, did not exist.
In a letter sent to the director of state education last week, Sanjay Deshmukh, director of the Maharashtra Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the state wing of the Central flagship scheme Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), has asked where the books and uniforms are, since there are no students to use them.
The SSA aims to provide quality elementary schooling to every child for eight years (ages 6-14). Under the scheme, students get funds for books and uniforms, apart from mid-day meals and other facilities.
“The books and uniforms are direct costs paid through the Central scheme for students, for children from the SC/ST categories and even those coming from the minorities. If the students do not exist, the money needs to be accounted for,” Deshmukh said.
Following complaints of sch-ools using bogus names to acq-uire government funds, the state had, in October 2011, undertaken a survey to find out the exact number of students in state-run and state-funded schools.
The survey found that of the 2.01 crore students listed as studying across 98,067 schools in the state, 10%, that is, 21 lakh students, were fake.
Of the 21 lakh, about 85% — that is, almost 19 lakh — are either girls or students belonging to the reserved category. Each of these students is entitled to books worth Rs 200 and a uniform worth Rs 400. Thus, at Rs 600 per student, the cost for 19 lakh students comes to Rs 114 crore.
The funds, sent by the Centre to the state, are first sent to district level committees, from where they are forwarded to school committees that finally distribute the books and uniforms.
These committees, comprising local politicians, bureaucrats and school principals are under the scanner as they are responsible for utilisation of funds.
The schools are run by civic bodies in urban areas and by zilla parishads in rural areas.
Asked about the alleged misappropriation, state education minister Rajendra Darda put the onus on a committee formed under the chief secretary to take action against schools showing fake students on their rolls. “Our work was to do the census and give data. The committee headed by the chief secretary will decide on further action,” he said.
There is speculation that pressure from politicians linked to district committees and errant schools is keeping the state from declaring its next course of action.