Punjab education minister Sikander Singh Maluka on Wednesday suspended Surjit Singh Khuram, district education officer (DEO), Bathinda, for showing laxity in the matter of allegedly vulgar content of books supplied to schools.
Maluka also issued a seven-day showcause notice to the director, public instructions, elementary (DPI-E), Prithpal Kaur as well as a private book supplier, Friends Enterprises of Sardulgarh (Mansa), after the issue was highlighted by a vernacular newspaper.
However, the minister is yet to address the issue of how the private supplier was thrusting his books onto schools by flashing a March 22 "nomination letter" issued by the DPI-E, backed by verbal orders of district- and block-level officers.
In a report published on May 20, HT had highlighted how the supplier - the firm's phone numbers mentioned on invoices remain unanswered for a week now - was thus pocketing the Rs. 9.28-crore library grant issued for primary and upper primary schools under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA).
The supply by Friends Enterprises - "nominated" by the DPI-led panel after a March 3 tender issued in a low-circulation newspaper - was against SSA rules providing autonomy to schools and also against a March 31 circular of the director general, school education, (DGSE) KS Pannu, who had asked school committees to choose books of the state language department.
While Maluka had said the tender process was "only to provide wider choice", the DGSE had distanced himself from the DPI-nominated firm.
But on Wednesday, the minister claimed to have found vulgar content in no less than 70% books of the language department, "sent to schools under the inspection of DGSE". A 15-day showcause notice was thus also issued to the director of the department, and a press note said Maluka had asked the DGSE to be "more careful" in future. The newspaper report that triggered the action had found vulgarity only in the books supplied by the DPI-nominated firm, after which the supply had been stopped.
The DGSE had told HT that he had only limited the choice to the 1,400-strong catalogue of the language department, and the actual choice of books had been left to the schools.
The 'vulgar' school books included those carrying chapters on adult subjects such as sterility and menstruation. Also, there were Punjabi books that carried songs defining women in misogynistic terms.
As per reports published in a vernacular daily, these were part of the 'kits' of books provided to schools by a private firm, Friends Enterprises, whose 'nomination' by the DPI-E remains questionable. Several other books are masters-level literary criticism texts.