An IAS of 1986-batch Assam cadre, Jhingran resigned from the post within just six months of appointment. Significantly, his last day in office, March 31, was the Supreme Court’s deadline for implementation of the Act.
Also significant is the fact that Jhingran is the second national coordinator of the RTE division to leave work midway through his term.
Exactly a year before, Kiran Bhatty, the consultant who established the division in 2010, put in her papers along with five members on March 31, 2012. Though Bhatty refused to get into details, she said it was important to have specific roles and duties for a department to work efficiently.
In an interview with Jasleen Kaur, Jhingran now explains the reason behind his premature resignation from the RTE division of NCPCR, and the problems with the enforcement of RTE Act.
Excerpts from the interview:
What forced you to quit?
I don’t think there is enough commitment on the part of NCPCR as an organisation to be an effective agency in monitoring RTE. It’s not about the chairperson — she is very committed — but as an organisation, it is not committed to RTE.
I think the problem lies somewhere in the fact that NCPCR is strongly controlled by the women and child development (WCD) ministry. (In fact) it is seen as a WCD subordinate office, whereas the RTE division is funded by the HRD ministry. Though NCPCR is mandated to be an autonomous body, that mandate is not backed up by funds or strong commitment of the organisation. While Shantha Sinha and Dipa Dixit (member) had worked really hard to set up RTE division and institute monitoring through state representatives and social audit of RTE, some members are very critical of the RTE and raise issues about earlier problems in the division. I somehow feel they (these members) do not want the RTE to be effective.
But the situation really worsened after new member-secretary Asheem Srivastav joined some months back. The opposing members want to undo the good work done by chairperson and Dipa Dixit. It is important that these attempts are thwarted so that NCPCR can play an effective role in RTE monitoring.
What really went wrong?
We took several new initiatives in the six months I served in the commission. But the last two months were only about seeking unnecessary permissions, clearances, funds, and so on and so forth.
There have been cases where it was very difficult to get permission even after several rounds of discussions and file movements. So it was not really a great environment to work in. Having worked in the government for 26 years, I am not keen at all in doing these clerical things.
What are the problems you faced while working in the division?
I am a trained official and I understand the rules of the government. So, if I am finding problems it means there are major issues. There is a problem of intent, especially of not allowing things to work. I came here to work but it’s sad to be that I have had to leave so early.
One can fight on principles or policies but not on such basic issues. It’s a very harassing way of working. I would definitely blame the member-secretary, apart from the contradictions within the commission. I think the member-secretary has failed to provide the support that was required (of him). I understand there are problems between the WCD minister and the chairperson; (that) they somehow do not see eye to eye.
I have worked here very independently in the six months and the chairperson, in fact, insulated me from a lot of interference that may have come from the WCD ministry. She played a very positive role but how much can she do alone? It’s not worth (the effort) if the organisation is not committed to it. The NCPCR should view its role in the implementation of RTE as a great opportunity. But you need a strong organisation to take up things.
Do you think forming an independent body to monitor RTE could help?
NCPCR and state commissions are supposed to be autonomous bodies but the problem is that we are not serious about our institutions. What’s the logic of creating an alternative body when you have got these institutions which are statutory. These have been formed by Acts of parliament.
But we create institutions and do not invest in them and weaken them on purpose. In many states, the SCPCRs (state commission for protection of child rights) are accorded such a low status and salaries that they cannot actually be effective in monitoring. So, the answer lies not in forming new institutions but to recognise that existing institutions should work autonomously in the real sense.
One of the things that can be done is to provide funding that is not tied to any ministry. For example, if we are monitoring MHRD, I should not get funds from MHRD; I should get it from elsewhere — like the planning commission or somewhere. Right now, MHRD approves the work plan and we are supposed to monitor that, which is a complex situation. The other thing, specifically for the RTE division, is that it should be headed by someone from the government.
Most people working here are consultants; I was also employed as a consultant. But it cannot work (that way). It’s a structural arrangement that is bound to fail. Someone from the government should head it. We are all within NCPCR but to be at the mercy of a person in the administration, who one fine day decides that nothing should be approved, is ridiculous.
As an institution, NCPCR has never taken full responsibility of RTE as some members keep opposing it. These are levered on who is aligned with WCD ministry and who is against the chairperson, or for her. But that should not affect the functioning of the division which has to monitor RTE. I could not travel much in the last two months because it was all about signing files and notes, which was not my job.
Last year, when the RTE Act completed two years, there was no one heading the division. And now, when it is completing the third year, there would be no one heading the division…
It’s a bad situation. It’s unfortunate that I have to leave so soon. But one good thing is that the member who has now been put in charge of the RTE division is very serious about its work. Hopefully, she will take more responsibility of what the national coordinator was doing till someone else has to take over. And the commission should give complete support to the implementation RTE, not individuals.
Should the HRD ministry play a more serious role in implementing and monitoring the RTE Act?
The HRD ministry does some monitoring of its own. There are lots of reports that MHRD collects from the state government. But, yes, they have to be very specific about what has happened, what needs to be done and (should) regularly issue clear instructions to the states regarding deadlines… so that the NCPCR can monitor those deadlines.