Mahatma Gandhi's dream of providing education with a difference to the poorest of the poor is dying in Bihar's West Champaran district. The schools set up by him are in a shambles.
Successive state governments have allowed the schools to languish. Even the central government does not make any attempt to breathe life into them.
"Like the other dreams of Mahatma Gandhi, his dream of basic schools too has been left in the lurch," Kapileshwar Singh, a retired government employee, said.
The basic schools were set up by Gandhi to impart basic education to boys and girls in rural areas. They were also meant to provide vocational training in spinning, carpentry, farming, weaving and leatherwork so that people could live with self-respect and dignity.
The first Buniyadi Vidyalaya or basic school was set up by Gandhi in 1939 at Brindavan in West Champaran district. Later, he set up more such schools, followed by other basic schools on the lines of the Buniyadi Vidyalaya.
Altogether 43 basic schools, or Mahatma Ka School as they are also known, in Bihar are struggling for survival. They suffer from a shortage of teachers and funds and land meant for them is in the illegal possession of powerful people, including musclemen.
"The basic schools were neglected by one and all and the buildings were in a bad condition," said Akhileshwar Jha, a former student of a basic school in Chanpatia block, said.
Sources in the district education office said at present there are 143 teachers as against the sanctioned posts of 461 teachers in 43 basic schools.
"In the last 18 months, over 100,000 primary school teachers have been recruited by the state government, but not a single teacher was appointed to the basic schools," official sources told IANS.
Officials of the Bihar Education Project said the newly recruited primary school teachers were not keen to join the basic schools. Some of the basic schools have just one or two teachers.
For instance, a basic school in Brindavan is virtually without any infrastructure. It has three teachers for over 600 students and manages with just half-a-dozen volunteers from the Gandhi Smriti Darshan that gives annual grants of Rs.18,000 to run it, a schoolteacher said.
Sources said most of the land in basic schools has been leased to people for as little as Rs.25 to Rs.30.
The story of basic schools at different places in West Champaran district has exposed the government's apathy.
It was in Champaran that Gandhi had launched his first satyagraha in India against British rule. But it appears that neither the state nor the centre has anything to do now with Gandhiji's heritage.
It is a different matter that on paper, the Bihar administration led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar planned the revival of Gandhi's basic schools as part of the Common School System (CSS) that the state government wants to implement.
According to official sources, the common school system commission will now develop these schools within the framework of the CSS.
A few years ago, the Supreme Court took serious note of the plight of the basic schools in West Champaran district. The court then issued notices to the centre, the state government, the district administration of West Champaran and the National Human Rights Commission to ensure proper functioning of the schools and preservation of the Gandhian heritage.