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Bidders for textbooks

- After delay drama, hope for new chapter for 50 lakh students of state-run schools

Ranchi, June 22: Around 50 lakh government schoolchildren of Classes I to VIII are yet to get free textbooks under the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) even two months after their classes started in April.

The state HRD department, which had earlier goofed up by floating the tender for printing and supplying the books for the 2014-15 session three months late, took a lot of time in selecting the bidders that were eventually finalised this month.

According to highly placed sources, two tenders — the first one was issued on January 24 and the second on April 7 — were rejected over a funds dispute till the chief minister intervened and asked the departmental head to wrap up the process as school students were being unnecessarily inconvenienced.

Consequently, a third tender was floated on May 22 and the bid was opened on June 16. Six bidders have been chosen to print and supply the NCERT textbooks.

State HRD minister Geetashree Oraon, along with officials of Jharkhand Education Project Council (JEPC) — an autonomous body that functions under state HRD department — finalised six out of the total 11 bidders.

“We have given the final nod to six companies to print and supply the NCERT textbooks. The work order will be issued by this month-end. We have ensured complete transparency in the entire process,” Oraon said.

Asked why the department had cancelled the earlier two tenders when the process had already been delayed, the minister remained tight-lipped.

After much prodding, a JEPC official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, admitted that there had been an unreasonable delay in finalising the tender.

“There was some disagreement over the funds issue. I will not be able to divulge details. All I can say is that never before, the tenders had been cancelled so many times,” he added.

The state has already received Rs 70 crore of central funds for the job.

An estimated 2.78 crore textbooks will be printed for distribution among 50 lakh children of 40,000 government middle schools across the state, who are now making do with old books passed on by their seniors.

Hum log purani kitab se padhai kar rahe hain (We are managing with old books). We cannot afford to purchase new books, which are quite expensive, from outside,” said Lalita Oraon, a fifth grader of Government Middle School in Nagri.

In March this year, all state-run schools were told to collect used textbooks from students after results of final exams come in and create a book bank so that they may be passed down to the junior classes.

“We have collected used textbooks from students of previous classes. Though old and torn, these books have been of great help to our students in times like this when we don’t know when the new sets will come,” said Ajay Kumar, principal of Government Middle School, Nagri, near the capital.

Providing photocopies of chapters to students could have been another remedy. But for a majority of schools, that would have been a costly affair.

Principal of the government middle school in Ranchi’s Hindpiri Amarkant Pathak, however, was more hopeful.

“Let’s see when the textbooks come. We have heard that we will get the new set of textbooks by September or October,” he said.

JEPC officials said that it would take at least 90 days to print the textbooks from the date of issuing the work order.

Normally, the process of floating tenders — inserting ads in newspapers — starts in October and books are already distributed in schools by January.

But this time, JEPC had initially decided to buy textbooks directly from the NCERT instead of going for a tender.

But when they found out that NCERT would not subsidise the purchase and the state would have to bear all costs for warehousing and transportation, they dropped the idea and eventually floated the first tender in January this year.