States critical of HRD ministry for not extending deadline, leaving them with tough decisions
The central government on Tuesday told states they would have to decide whether to shut schools that have failed to achieve the required norms or give them more time to comply. Photo: Mint
Updated: Wed, Apr 03 2013. 12 10 AM IST
New Delhi: The states accused the Centre of shrugging off responsibility for implementing the Right to Education (RTE) Act. The central government on Tuesday told states they would have to decide whether to shut schools that have failed to achieve the required norms or give them more time to comply.
State education ministers were critical of the human resource development (HRD) ministry not extending the 31 March deadline for RTE implementation and leaving them with having to take tough decisions.
The frustration of the states was evident from just 10 out of 28 education ministers participating in the central advisory board on education (CABE) meeting in New Delhi. Those who participated, mostly from Congress-ruled states, were critical of the HRD ministry.
CABE is the highest decision-making body on education and comprises state education ministers, experts and academicians.
The ministry said it does not have a “ready answer” on any backup plan if tens of thousand of schools are shut and students are left in the lurch as they seek to pursue eight years of compulsory education.
Under the RTE Act, schools not complying with its norms can be closed down. These norms include adequate infrastructure, enough teachers, play facilities, toilets and the reserving of 25% of seats for underprivileged kids living in the vicinity of the school campuses. Both the states and the central government can also be taken to court for failing to comply with the Act.
HRD minister M.M. Pallam Raju reiterated that the government didn’t offer an alternative in order to avoid legal difficulties.
“States can initiate action, punish those schools who have not budged from their position,” he said. “They can take decision on whether the schools can be given an extension based on their intention to comply with the norms, which have not been achieved.”
Uttarakhand education minister Mantri Prasad Naithani criticized the government for not understanding ground realities.
K. Partha Sarathy, secondary education minister of Andhra Pradesh, called for the deadline to be extended, failing which the impact could be widespread.
“Legal hassle could force thousands of schools to close. They have to give us a clearer view,” he said.
Both Sarathy and Naithani belong to Congress-ruled states and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by the party may find it difficult to ignore off their demands as it readies for polls.
Archana Chitnis, education minister from the Bharatiya Janata Party ruled Madhya Pradesh, said the state may have to close several schools if the deadline is not extended.
“You cannot take this lightly. At least 25% of the schools in our state are private schools,” she said. “And to implement the 25% reservation for underprivileged kids they would need extra financial support.”
Reacting to the states’ demand, Raju said that they need to follow procedure and should not abruptly shut schools. States can set up a committee, assess the situation, file a report and send notices to erring schools, he said.
“There is need for some punishment for those who have not budged from their stand. You have to set the example,” the HRD minister said.
Raju didn’t comment on why the majority of state education ministers were absent from the meeting. HRD ministry officials said they would have preferred a full house.
“It’s a tough question to answer. We would have liked ministers from 28 states,” said one senior official of the ministry. “They know that once the deadline is over, they can no more pressurize the government to extend it,” said another official. Both of them requested anonymity.