The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Free uniform, tailored for polls

Calcutta, Sept. 30: The government will distribute uniforms to nearly 25 lakh girls between Class I and V studying in the 60,000 state-aided primary schools across Bengal, despite the severe funds crunch.

Officials said more than Rs 2.15 crore has been sanctioned for the purpose. Till last year, school uniforms were provided only to SC/ST students.

The decision to spend such a huge amount at a time when the state is reeling under the financial crisis is being viewed by the anti-Left teachers’ bodies as a measure for extracting political mileage before the panchayat elections.

Bengal Primary Teachers’ Association general secretary Kartick Saha alleged that the decision to provide uniforms to girl students, instead of abolishing the system, was aimed at influencing women voters. “This is definitely aimed at wooing women voters in the rural belt,” Saha said. “The government’s intention is evident from the manner in which the selection of schools has been made for distribution of the free dresses,” he said. The primary schools in CPM strongholds are being given top priority, Saha alleged. “This is ample proof of the board’s real intentions.”

Secondary Teachers’ and Employees Association general secretary Ratan Laskar said the move was a Left Front ploy for the panchayat polls.

“There are numerous schemes pending for schoolchildren in Bengal and we have been making repeated appeals to get them implemented,” he said.

Government sources, however, said the decision was taken on the basis of a study conducted by the state education department.

The study revealed that the earlier norm of providing free uniforms only to a section of schoolgirls needed to be rectified because it gave rise to a sense of discrimination among students in the SC/ST and general categories.

School education minister Kanti Biswas admitted that the practice of giving free dresses only to the SC/ST students had been “creating problems”.

It also generated a sense of inferiority among the SC/ST students. “After examining the attitude of the girl students in a large number of schools, we felt that either the system of free dresses should be scrapped or they should be given to all categories of students,” said Biswas.

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