The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Peanuts for education

New Delhi, Feb. 28: If it was roses all the way for health minister Sushma Swaraj, for Murli Manohar Joshi it is a thorny path that lies ahead.

Finance minister Jaswant Singh was tight-fisted despite the human resources development minister’s petitions for raising investment in the education sector. Joshi’s pet project, the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, has received an additional Rs 600 crore in the new budget against the department’s minimum annual requirement of Rs 7,350 crore.

Officials in the ministry have been saying that the Abhiyan cannot do with an investment of less than Rs 7,000 crore if it has to succeed.

The programme launched for universalisation of elementary education for children in the 6-14 age group has been the high-water mark of Joshi’s tenure. Ministry officials stress that the government has made yet another important commitment by passing the 93rd Constitutional Amendment Bill to make education a fundamental right for children in this age group.

Earlier, Joshi had written to the Planning Commission detailing the requirements of his department. According to the Abhiyan’s guidelines, the Centre has to invest 75 per cent and states 25 per cent of the cost of the programme during the 10th Plan.

The financial requirement of the programme in the first 10 years amounts to Rs 98,000 crore, which works out to Rs 9,800 crore a year. The mid-day meal scheme requires Rs 1,700 crore per year. Add to this smaller financial commitments such as 10 per cent of the budget for the Northeast and Rs 233 crore for adult education.

Joshi, who seemed confident of being able to draw sufficient funds, has not made any effort to draw resources from international donors.

In fact, the minister repeatedly made it clear to all foreign agencies, including the World Bank, that any investment they want to make will have to be made without any conditions.

However, faced with a cash crunch, the education department is now knocking on the doors of the World Bank for the Abhiyan. In the current year, the department is running a deficit of Rs 500 crore for the mid-day meal scheme.

Officials as well as educationists point out that a drying up of funds for the Abhiyan could derail the entire programme or further undermine the quality of education.

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