Cooperation, not coercion - Hindustan Times

Cooperation, not coercion

ByHT Editorial
Feb 29, 2024 09:04 PM IST

Funds for public schooling should not be hostage to frayed federal relations

The Centre is considering halting further release of Samagra Shiksha funds to six non-NDA states and Union Territories for not toeing its line on the Pradhan Mantri Schools For Rising India (PM SHRI) scheme. If the flagship scheme to improve public schooling in the country ends up a hostage of the Centre’s insistence on a scheme to create a clutch of “exemplar schools”, it would be no small irony. For perspective, the 14,500 schools targeted under PM SHRI, which will showcase success with implementing components of the National Education Policy 2020 for others to emulate, account for just ~1.4% of the government schools in India.

Smart classes to be started in upper primary schools and Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas. (Pic for representation) PREMIUM
Smart classes to be started in upper primary schools and Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas. (Pic for representation)

Attempts to strong-arm the states that have either not signed an MoU with the Centre to implement the scheme or have stopped implementing it will test already stressed federal relations. Education is on the concurrent list, though the operational responsibility lies largely with the states. The push to turn Samagra Shiksha allotment into some sort of grant from the Centre is avoidable, given how it indicates further centralisation, eroding states’ fiscal autonomy. No state government will want to let the Centre walk away with all the credit for developmental work, especially when it is the states that ensure last-mile implementation. It will be unfortunate if central funds for education are held up over what seems like a bout for perception gains. It is taxpayers’ money, to begin with. And, it is government school students — typically, from economically vulnerable grounds — who stand to suffer the most if the disbursals are suspended.

Centre-state relations are already frayed, with Opposition governments accusing the Centre of squeezing them on the transfer of funds at the risk of upsetting the federal balance. One state government (Kerala) has sought judicial recourse to regain fiscal autonomy, having approached the Supreme Court against the Centre capping net borrowing, effectively ending any room for the cash-strapped state to borrow from even the open market. Any step by the Centre that could further crimp fund transfers to the states will make a mockery of the ideal of cooperative federalism. Opposition-ruled states have already alleged central interference through the Governor’s office and targeting by enforcement authorities. The Centre must not let the perception gain ground that development funds are being used as leverage against the Opposition.

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