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School too far for cycle-less girls

- Families rethink education without government-gifted wheels

Jhargram, Dec. 16: A delay by the government in supplying bicycles to girl students in Jungle Mahal has robbed them of interest in pursuing higher education.

The lack of cycles has made several parents wonder if they want to send their daughters to school anymore. Some girls said spending money on commuting to school and back was hard for them.

Madan Mahato, a farmer in Salboni whose daughter studies in Class IX, said: “Our girls hardly go for higher education. After the announcement last year, I thought we would not have to spend anything on her commuting to school. But now, I have to think if I can afford her to continue in school.”

Mamata Banerjee had in July last year announced that over 26,000 bicycles would be given for free to girls of Classes IX-XI. Till now, a little over 18,000 bicycles have been distributed in state-aided schools in the area that was Maoist dominated till a year ago. The cycle sop was one of several the government had announced to win over people in the backward area.

Binpur High School headmaster Suniti Akul said guardians held the schools responsible, thinking the authorities were dragging their feet in sending requisitions for the cycles to the administration.

“I have sent a requisition for 495 cycles this year. The students and their guardians have been blaming us for our failure to provide the bicycles. They think it is because of our callousness that the students are being deprived of the facility,” he said.

Bhadutala High School headmaster Amitesh Chowdhury echoed Akul. Of the 230 girl students in his school, only five have been given the bicycles. “How can I make them understand it is not my fault. How can I provide the bicycles if the district authorities do not supply them?” he said.

Students said their daily expenses would have lessened had they got the bicycles. “I have to travel 6km from my home at Andharia to attend classes. I walk 2km and then take a bus or a trekker to school. Both money and time are wasted. When I was in Class XI, I was promised I would be given a bicycle. So, my parents allowed me to continue with my studies thinking commuting would be free. We can’t anymore afford the daily spending of Rs 10,” said Kakali Patra, a Class XII student of Binpur High School.

Her sister Moupia said she would have to discontinue her studies if she had to spend Rs 10 on going to school. The West Midnapore administration pleaded helplessness, saying they had “little to offer” as solution. “What can we do if the government does not supply the bicycles as requisitioned by us?” a senior official said.

Paschimanchal unnayan affairs minister Sukumar Hansda said: “ I have asked the district magistrate to find out if he can manage funds. Otherwise, I will allot funds from my department.”