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Maharashtra: Municipal school politics

EducationWorld May 12 | Education News EducationWorld
The 80,000-plus students enroled in 294 schools run by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) will begin their new academic year in June with severe shortages of textbooks, uniforms and educational materials.
Embarassed PMC officials attribute this faux pas to “miscommunication and confusion” over procurement of educational material between the civic body and its school board. Under a system that was prevalent till March 31, the school board was authorised to buy the required books and uniforms for PMC school students from a budgetary allocation of Rs.18 crore specifically earmarked for the purpose. However, the equation has now changed following a PMC resolution passed in March which stripped the school board of this responsibility in the new fiscal year.
The explanation provided by PMC for this abrupt decision is that it will prevent “irregularities” in the purchase of books, uniforms and educational materials for its students. “There have been instances in the past when the school board has not followed established procedures and of members siphoning off funds. Therefore, from this year onwards the PMC will undertake the task of providing books and uniforms to students on its own,” a senior PMC official said speaking on condition of anonymity. The school board had sent a proposal to the PMC last month to allow it to purchase the required items, which was turned down. “We had started inviting tenders in April, but now new tender invitations have been cancelled,” says Sangeeta Tiwari, chairperson of the school board.
However in typical Indian style, the issue of curtailing the buying powers of the school board is by no means a closed chapter. According to Tiwari, the corporation’s school board is an autonomous body and PMC has no right to cancel its procurement powers. Pune’s newly-elected mayor Vaishali Bankar, says a resolution to the effect can be tabled in PMC only after the election of a new 13-member school board in May. In short, it will take approximately two months to get the required tenders approved and then source the uniforms, shoes, sweaters and textbooks for the 80,000 students enroled in PMC’s 294 English, Marathi, Urdu and Kannada-medium schools.
Meanwhile, this imbroglio has provided political parties a perfect opportunity to play the blame game. Senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) corporator Dilip Barate alleges that continuous mismanagement of the school board is the cause of the depleting number of students in schools managed by the Congress-run PMC. NCP corporator Nanda Lonkar and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) corporator Rajendra Shilimkar criticise PMC for running its schools without proper infrastructure and toilets for students and teachers, while Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) recently forced a PMC education officer to eat a school mid-day meal provided to students.
Bottom-of-the-pyramid parents, who are obliged by economic circumstances to send their children to dysfunctional PMC schools, despair that their children’s workload will increase, and already poor learning outcomes will suffer further because of the anticipated delay in issuing textbooks. “We are totally at the mercy of school authorities. What do we understand about why children aren’t getting their books and uniforms on time? As it is, my children are least interested in attending school and I have to literally force them to go every morning, with or without uniforms and books,” says Medhabai Sushrut, a widowed domestic worker supporting her three children on her wages of Rs.7,000 per month.
With workload also likely to increase, teachers in PMC schools are also despairing. “All this is just power play. The focus is on the funds and who gets them, not on whether the children get their books on time,” comments Sandesh Bhagwat, a retired PMC teacher.
Huned Contractor (Pune)
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