Timely Distribution of Free Uniform A Big Challenge for Govt

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Education Department, which finally waded itself out of the Plus Two school muddle, has another big challenge ahead. It’s been nearly two months since the academic year began, but there’s no clarity on when free uniforms will reach close to eight lakh children in government schools.

 Unlike previous years, the Central funds for various educational projects under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) - including free uniform  scheme -  were routed through the Finance Departments of the respective states this year. According to sources, the first installment of SSA funds, amounting to Rs 103 crore, was transferred to the state Finance Department on May 30.

However, instead of sensing the urgency of the need to advance the amount to SSA for timely distribution of uniform, the State Government included it in the supplementary demand for grants. This was approved by the Assembly only on July 17.

“Central Government norms clearly state that its funds should be allocated within 15 days of its receipt by the state. However, close to two months have passed. Even after passing the supplementary demand for grants, there is no word on when the funds will be transferred to SSA. This has caused an unprecedented delay in uniform distribution,” said a senior SSA official preferring anonymity.

The Delay and Its Consequences

Out of the Rs 103 crore released by the Centre under SSA, Rs 31.21 crore was earmarked for providing free uniform to students (except for boys in the Above Poverty Line) from Classes I to VIII in government schools.

 The State Government has to contribute 35 per cent of the SSA fund through the Local Self Government Department.However, the LSGD’s contribution is expected to reach SSA only by the last quarter of 2014, after the budgets of the respective local bodies are passed. This seriously affects the pace of the many projects including the free uniform distribution process, sources said.

“The Union HRD Ministry has stated clearly that the second installment of SSA funds will be provided only after the State Government contributes its 35 per cent share and after the entire first installment has been utilised. The delay on the part of LSGD in providing its share can hamper the SSA’s second installment,” the official warned.

Lessons from Last Year

Much to the embarrassment of the Education Department, the uniform distribution process of the previous academic year is yet to be completed in some schools. The State Government had extended the free uniform scheme to aided schools by allocating Rs 80 crore from its kitty last year.

“There were certain drawbacks in the uniform distribution process last year. This was primarily due to non-cooperation on the part of headmasters and AEOs in ensuring timely distribution. The process also began in January which affected timely distribution,” Education Minister P K Abdu Rabb told ‘Express’.

Free Uniform for Aided Sector

Learning from the lapses last year, the State Government has decided to provide free uniform only to those students who have taken fresh admission in aided schools this year.

 “From this year, the responsibility of procuring uniform will be wrested with the respective school management committees. Around Rs 15 crore will be allocated for free uniform scheme in aided schools this year,” Abdu Rabb said.

 According to senior officials of the Education Department, along with 1.64 lakh newly admitted students in aided schools, all those students who were left out of the free uniform scheme last year will also be covered.

Ironically, a sizeable section of these students have entered Class XI, making them ineligible under the scheme.

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The New Indian Express