Raise funds for better facilities, Punjab schools told
Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal may have shown great heart in donating Rs.1 crore from the government kitty to his elitist alma mater in Himachal Pradesh recently, but schools in his own state are being asked to raise funds from charity for better facilities.
In a recent communication to education officials and school heads across Punjab, the Director General School Education (DGSE) has asked them to generate funds from their own resources. School heads and teachers are being encouraged to generate funds for their schools.
"As per instructions, the schools have been asked to encourage social workers and donors to contribute towards a special welfare fund planned specially to accept such charity. No government worth its salt would seek charity or donations if its schools were self sufficient in funds," Congress leader and former legislator Sukhpal Singh Khaira said.
"The DGSE letter to all school heads vindicates our criticism of the Rs.1 crore grant to Sanawar School at the cost of Punjab's dilapidated school education system," Khaira said.
The letter, he said, only confirmed the viewpoint that the state's government schools were in a shambles.
"Our children have to squat on the floor to study, there is no safe drinking water in many schools nor toilets for students and there is extreme shortage of teachers. Under these conditions the government is doing more harm than good to the future of over 34 lakh (3.4 million) students enrolled in 18,397 government schools in Punjab," the Congress leader said.
The Parkash Singh Badal government in Punjab was on the defensive last month after the chief minister's son Sukhbir Badal gave a cheque of Rs.1 crore to the elitist Sanawar School. Sukhbir was chief guest at the school's founders day.
The Punjab and Haryana high court, while issuing notice to the Punjab government on a public interest litigation, recently directed that the money granted to Sanawar School should not be cashed or spent by the institution till its orders.
Another high-profile alumnus of the school, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, also attended the event in his private capacity but did not shower any grants on the fund-rich school.
"The Badal government and Sukhbir should concentrate on providing infrastructure and facilities to government schools in Punjab instead of wasting precious funds on elite schools. The common people in Punjab cannot send their wards to elitist boarding schools as Sukhbir was sent," said retired government school teacher Kulwant Singh.
Congress leaders have also alleged that while Sukhbir Badal was giving away public money to his alma mater, poor, under-privileged students in schools across Punjab continued to wait as the debt-ridden state government has failed to release funds totalling Rs 64.39 crore meant for their scholarships.
Sukhbir Badal had defended his decision saying that it (the grant to Sanawar) was allowed by the Punjab cabinet.
"It is the cabinet which passed the grant. Other chief ministers have also been giving grants to institutions in other states," Sukhbir Badal said in his defence.
The annual fee at Sanawar is close to Rs.300,000 per student. The boarding school, which boasts of alumni like Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt, top defence officers and others, has over 1,000 students on its rolls.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at email@example.com)