Government may finally bankroll Right to Education Bill

February 23rd, 2008 - 11:11 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Sanjay Singh
New Delhi, Feb 23 (IANS) The government might take on all the financial burden of the ambitious Rs.12.5 billion a year proposal to provide compulsory education to children all over the country after the states expressed their reluctance to bankroll the scheme. The Right to Education Bill, 2005 has been on the backburner for two years but may finally be introduced in the budget session of parliament that kicks off next week, said officials in the ministry of human resource development (HRD).

This has already been communicated to the Planning Commission by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

The scheme had been riddled with problems from the start as states rejected the central government’s proposal to share one-fourth of the funds for the purpose. Now, however, the union government is considering taking on 90 percent or maybe all the costs involved, officials said.

Concerned over the inordinate delay in getting the plan off the ground, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced last fortnight that the central government would be coming up with the Right to Education Bill “very soon”. His announcement came a day after HRD Minister Arjun Singh met him seeking help to paper the differences, particularly after the states made it clear that they could not afford the money involved.

Over the last two years, Arjun Singh had been writing to state chief ministers hoping that they would come on board. But the response was uniform - fund the scheme. This, notwithstanding the central government’s willingness to shell out 75 percent of the cost for implementing the scheme.

According to HRD ministry officials, the states had a problem with a particular clause in the bill that makes it mandatory for schools to pay the fees and other expenses of students from Classes 1 to 8. This, officials said, was because under the draft bill all out-of-school children between the ages of six and 14 (including disabled children) would have to be in school and state governments would have to pay for their education.

The central government has earmarked a whopping Rs.850 billion ($21 billion) towards education in the Eleventh Plan, which ends in 2012.

This is five times the allocation for the education sector in the Tenth Plan. A ministry official said once the bill is cleared, the funds would be raised from the budget allocated for the Eleventh Plan.

Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia had earlier stated that the central government could not afford the funds needed for the Right to Education Bill and there was no need for it. He was of the view that the government could widen the scope of its existing flagship programmes like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the midday meal scheme to meet the target for free and compulsory education for all.

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