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Education and Modi govt’s misplaced priorities

By Sapan Kapoor

After days of protest by hundreds of students over the scrapping of the non-National Eligibility Test (NET) fellowship, the Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani, in a bid to assuage the concerns of the latter, clarified that the programme would continue. However, the students, notwithstanding the government’s assurances in this regard, are continuing with their ‘Occupy UGC’ demonstration, painting graffiti in black and red on the walls adjacent to the UGC building in New Delhi.

It read, “#OccupyUGC… This wall will fall.”

The students demanded written assurances from the powers-that-be and an increase in the amount of the grant.

The students have a point, for needless to say education in India is not just a socio-economic issue, but a national security issue as well. Thousands of people, both security forces and civilians, have died in India due to Maoist violence with the illiterate, unemployed and unemployable youth waging a sanguine war against the state. It only shows how if the youth is not provided with quality education and training, the much-vaunted demographic dividend – at present India has 50% of its population below 25 years and 65% below 35 years – that our country is supposed to enjoy can turn into a disaster.

The pathetic quality of education being imparted to Indians can be gauged with the following example alone that should suffice to give us sleepless nights.

In the second week of September 2015, 23 lakh candidates applied for just 368 vacancies for the post of a peon in the government secretariat in Uttar Pradesh. To be a peon, one is required to be but a fifth grader (duh). However, shockingly, the applicants for this post included 250 doctorates, 25,000 Postgraduates, 1.5 lakh graduates, 7.5 lakh Higher secondary school pass outs and 11.2 lakh class 10 or equivalent pass outs. When PhD holders and engineers start applying for the post of peon in a country, it should become obvious that there’s something seriously wrong with its education system.

We are in troubled waters, but the authorities do not seem to be losing their sleep over this pressing issue. It is a matter of great regret that when it comes to funding for the important sector of education, the treatment Modi sarkar has meted out to it does not inspire much confidence; and above all should be a cause of concern for one and all.

When the need of the hour is to spend more on educating India’s youth, the NDA government has chosen to walk in the opposite direction that leads nowhere but the abyss of darkness and ignorance.

Let’s have a look at some disturbing figures in this regard. The NDA government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reduced India’s overall education budget from Rs. 82,771 cr to Rs. 69,074 cr. While under the previous government the Plan allocation went up by 18 per cent in 2012-13 and by 8.03 per cent in 2013-14, the Modi sarkar has reduced the Plan allocation for 2015-16 by 24.68 per cent.

The government’s apathy towards education is apparent from the fact that funding for the flagship Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) has been reduced by 22.14 per cent; the Mid-Day Meal Scheme by 16.41 per cent; the Rashtriya Madhyama Shiksha Abhiyan for secondary education by 28.7 per cent; and the Rashtriya Uchhattar Shiksha Abhiyan, to support state colleges, by 48 per cent.

Moreover, when the Smriti Irani’s Human Resource ministry demanded Rs 50,000 cr in 2015-16 for SSA, it received just Rs 22,000 cr from the current Budget. The Union Budget for 2015-16 also cut spending on child education, development, health and protection as compared to last year. “In absolute terms”, according to child rights NGO Child Rights and You (CRY), child budget decreased from Rs 81,075.26 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 57,918.51 cr in 2015-16.

Ironically, the government of India announced Rs 250 million assistance package for the preservation of the Pashupatinath temple in Nepal last year prior to Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the Himalayan country. Furthermore, PM Modi ‘gifted’ 2,500 kg of Shrikhanda (Sandalwood) worth Rs 2 crore for the temple, besides providing assistance in building a 400-bed ‘dharamshala’ inside the temple premises.

It is, therefore, a pity that when the need of the hour is to urgently boost spending on education, India’s scarce resources are being literally frittered away on temples that too in foreign lands, finding ancient rivers and funding cultural tours from relief funds meant for natural disasters, especially when hundreds of debt-ridden, wretched farmers have been compelled to put an end to their precious lives.

It is apparent the government has got its priorities wrong or, perchance, it does not fully understand the gravity of the situation. In the 21st century India, quality, affordable education ought not to be the preserve of the privileged few, for not everyone is as fortunate enough like PM Modi who despite being from a humble background has gone on to lead the nation.

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