National child labour project schools to close from March 31, staff in Ludhiana plans protest in Delhi
National Child Labour Project (NCLP) schools and centres, funded by the Union government, were started in 2001 for those who were involved in ‘Bal Mazdoori’ (child labour) and were not enrolled in any school; the 32 centres in Ludhiana are managed by non-governmental organisations and have students between the ages of nine to 14 enrolled in Class 1 to 5
The Union government’s decision to shut the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) schools running in Ludhiana, from March 31, have left staff and administration of these schools in lurch.
With some of them having worked with NCLP schools for the past 20 years, the staff has decided to launch a major protest in Delhi against the announcement. The representatives of these schools also recently met deputy commissioner Varinder Sharma.
These schools and centres, funded by the Union government, were started in 2001 for those who were involved in ‘Bal Mazdoori’ (child labour) and were not enrolled in any school.
In Punjab, these centres were so far operational in three districts including Amritsar, Jalandhar and Ludhiana.
The 32 centres in Ludhiana are managed by non-governmental organisations and have students between the ages of nine to 14 enrolled in Class 1 to 5. In each centre, only 50 students could be enrolled as per the directions of the Union government.
Volunteer staff, including two teachers, who were so far being paid ₹7,000 a month, two cooks who were paid ₹3,000 each, a clerk who was recruited for ₹5,000, a peon deputed for ₹3,700 and a vocational teacher who handled more than one centre used to receive ₹9,000. Moreover, each student in these schools received ₹400 every month in their bank accounts directly from the government.
After the field report submitted by Union government officials to the Ministry of labour and employment last year stated that there was no need to run these schools separately and these students should be admitted in nearby government schools under Sarva Siksha Abhiyan scheme, the decision to close these schools was made.
According to Surjit Singh, owner of an NGO which runs seven such centres here, the Union government hasn’t released grants for NCLP schools since October 2020.
Ludhiana deputy commissioner Varinder Kumar Sharma, on November 23, 2021, requested the ministry concerned to release grants for these schools as teachers and volunteers were facing trouble due to non-payment of their salaries. Ludhiana Member of Parliament Ravneet Singh made the same request to the minister concerned on November 16, 2021.
Manpreet Kaur, a teacher at an NCLP centre, stated, “We make a lot of effort to motivate children who work either at dhabas, rag-pickers, or even beg on road, to study. We have invested a lot in them emotionally too. We also motivate their parents which isn’t easy at all. These children are sensitive and have an inferiority complex and thus it would be difficult for them to study with the other students in government schools here,” said Kaur.
She added that the move by the government may discourage them and they may end up indulging in criminal activities.
Voicing the same view, Surjit Singh said that even a 12-year-old student is studying in Class 1 here but he/she won’t be comfortable to study along with students of lesser age and would even leave school.
Harjinder Kaur, another volunteer teacher, expressed displeasure. “It’s been around 20 years that I have been teaching here and suddenly we don’t know what to do now. The government, instead of generating employment, is making people jobless.”
Meanwhile, students also want to continue studying in these schools citing their comfort level with the teachers there.
A special committee of NGOs, to lead the protest in Delhi, has been formed.
Meanwhile, DC Sharma said that since it is a Central government scheme, the local government doesn’t have any authority to do much.