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Class beats code by a whisker

New Delhi, March 2: The UPA government today launched its largest new education scheme after five years in power only 36 minutes before the announcement of the election schedule clipped its powers to initiate populist measures.

At 2.54pm, the government quietly flagged off the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) to universalise secondary education, beating the announcement of the election schedule, slated for 3.30pm.

The government’s rush and the scheme’s launch are legal under election rules. They, however, demonstrate the desperation to beat the poll announcement that grips an outgoing government.

This desperation has seen ministers fly across the country to lay foundation stones over the past fortnight.

Today, by the time chief election commissioner N. Gopalaswami began reading out the schedule for the world’s largest democratic exercise at Nirvachan Sadan, the human resource development ministry had issued letters notifying the scheme to all the states.

The Rs 20,120-crore scheme, promised in the 2007 budget, was kicked off without fanfare, and ministry officials were breathing easy.

“It’s done,” smiled an official as the CEC spoke on TV about a poll booth that would cater to only one voter.

The RMSA was approved by the cabinet last month and has been ready for launch for at least a week. But HRD minister Arjun Singh’s approval for the launch arrived at the ministry headquarters only around noon today, when TV channels were blaring out that the elections would be announced in the afternoon.

Over the next two hours, sources said, a final draft of the notification was prepared. Officials began faxing the notification to various arms of the central government and to all the states, following up the fax with emails. The last communication notifying the launch was sent at 2.54pm.

Once elections are announced, a code of conduct kicks in, preventing the government from announcing new programmes.

The RMSA aims to replicate the success of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) at the secondary school stage. Under the SSA, India has achieved over 95 per cent enrolment in primary education though retention levels are still just around 70 per cent.

The RMSA aims to universalise secondary education enrolment by 2017, and retention by 2020. Its intermediate target is to achieve 75 per cent enrolment in secondary schools by 2014. Its scope includes ensuring the availability of a secondary school within 5km of every student’s home.

By 2011-12, the scheme aims to provide facilities for additional enrolment by 32.2 lakh students, the notification issued to states today says.

The Centre will provide 75 per cent of the funds during the 11th Five Year Plan, with the states coughing up the rest. The funding pattern will shift to 50:50 in the 12th Plan.

Northeastern states need contribute only 10 per cent of the funding throughout the scheme’s life — the Centre will provide the rest.

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