THREE YEARS after a committee was established to bring schools for the children of stone quarry workers under the purview of Right To Education (RTE) act, as many as 32,657 students from 28 districts are still out of school.
The committee, consisting of nine members, are yet to hold even a single meeting since its establishment on December 1, 2012, said advocate Bastu Rege, a member of the committee and founder of Santulan, an NGO which works for the upliftment of the quarry workers. In 2013, the committee visited schools for quarry children in Pune, Satara, Kolhapur, Sangli and Nashik, however, it hasn’t made any progress since then.
On Monday, Rege, along with 500 others, including nearly 200 children of quarry workers, staged a protest outside Balbharati, questioning the inaction of the committee. Besides Rege, the committee included Legislative Assembly member Vivek Pandit, Member of Legislative Council Bhagwan Salunkhe, State Project Director of Maharashtra Primary Education Council, Joint Director of Primary Education of Maharashtra, Regional Education Directors of Pune and Kolhapur, Director of NGO Samarthan and Joint Director (Administration). The committee was supposed to submit first report to the government within two months of the formation.
Talking about the situation of the schools of quarry workers’ children in remote areas of the state, Rege said, “These schools are not receiving any financial support from the government. They are running on private funds. Teachers are not getting good salaries either. In many places, due to the migration, the schools have become vacant. The government has given orders to use these schools, but children have to commute a lot to reach them.” Rege’s Santulan was the first NGO that built a school for quarry workers’ children at Wagholi in 1997, spreading to five districts over next 10 years. However, in other districts where private schools have not reached, the condition of children is far worse.
“The lives of quarry workers are filled with troubles. They have to travel miles for basic facilities like drinking water, electricity and medical aid. The lack of education adds to the misery. These children then start working with their parents and end up being quarry workers. Many aspirations have died like this. Do they not have any right to a good life? Why should their children stay away from a fundamental right like education? Is the government not bothered at all about this disastrous situation,” asked Rege.
To fasten the process of inclusion, Education Commissioner Purushottam Bhapkar has written a letter to the State Project Director of Maharashtra, who is the head of the committee, and has given the protesters a copy of the letter. “He has assured us that the meeting will take place as soon as possible. We’re expecting the head to conduct a meeting in next 15 days and if they don’t take any action, we’ll carry out a bigger protest at Azad Maidan in Mumbai,” said Rege.