Dipta Joshi (Mumbai)
The Maharashtra education ministry’s drive to match government and government-aided schools’ student enrolments with their UID (unique identification number) aka Aadhaar card registrations, has opened a Pandora’s box. Of the 2.1 million students enroled on the ministry’s online portal, SARAL, 1.9 million have fake Aadhaar cards while another 2.9 million have been enroled without the mandatory Aadhaar registration. Translated, this means that the number of students in government and aided schools has been bloated by 4.8 million.
Since 2015, all school admissions in the state have been linked to the 12-digit Aadhaar card issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India on behalf of the Union government. However, for the first time Maharashtra’s education ministry has compared the number of Aadhaar cards issued to school students with the actual number of children enroled in government and aided schools. The huge mismatch suggests a scam perpetrated by corrupt education ministry officials in cahoots with school managements.
The Maharashtra government which allocated Rs.64,000 crore for education in the state budget 2022-23 presented to the legislative assembly on March 11, spends Rs.45,000 per student annually. Grants for student entitlements and teacher salaries are awarded to schools based on the number of students enrolled. Therefore, a large number of government and government aided schools are receiving grants for ‘ghost’ students. It’s a moot point where the amounts paid into the bank accounts of schools for non-existent students vanish.
Unsurprisingly, officials of the school education department are underplaying the mismatch between Aadhaar registrations and student enrolments, attributing discrepancies to technical glitches in the SARAL platform and large-scale student migration within the state during the pandemic. However, the SARAL platform is designed to acknowledge student transfers and admissions to other schools within the state.
Allegations of fake enrolments are falling on receptive ears because Maharashtra has a history of inflating student numbers in government schools. In 2011, a state-wide survey found as many as 2.4 million fake students enroled in government schools. In 1,400 of these schools, only 50 percent of the total number enroled were actually attending class. However, teacher deployments and student entitlements (scholarships, books, uniforms, admin expenses and mid-day meals payments) were made on the full complement of students recorded on the SARAL platform.
Following this scam, in 2012 Brijmohan Mishra, a teacher from Maharashtra’s Beed district, filed a PIL (public interest litigation) writ against the Maharashtra government, praying for action against schools that report excess student numbers with intent to avail government grants on the basis of inflated enrolments.
Responding to charges of bogus Aadhaar registrations, the school education department has set up committees comprising taluka-level education officers to verify the incongruities reported by schools. However, the huge number of enrolments shown on the basis of fake Aadhaar registrations prompted Mishra to file another PIL (Brijmohan S/o Dhirajprasad Mishra vs. State of Maharashtra & Ors.) in February this year demanding a CBI enquiry into the matter.
“Even if we consider school teacher appointments based on the 1:40 teacher-pupil ratio, it means the state has appointed 48,462 teachers for 1.9 million non-existent students. Further, if the existence of as many as 4.8 million students is suspect, the question arises, who are these state-appointed teachers teaching? Such huge inconsistencies cannot be due to technical glitches alone. The state already has a precedent of school managements misusing teacher appointment funds under the protection of corrupt education officials. We are pressing for a CBI enquiry because each time there is a scam, the department sets up a committee comprising education ministry officials who give a clean chit to their colleagues,” says petitioner Brijmohan Mishra.
Clearly a deep dive enquiry is necessary.
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