In the last more than 10 years, the government has been able to complete work on only 66 of the 382 residential schools sanctioned for tribals (ashramshalas). Documents procured by The Indian Express under the Right to Information (RTI) Act show that construction work on 280 schools is yet to start, while work for the remaining 36 is incomplete.
Issues pertaining to mismanagement of funds by the tribal welfare department has become the subject of a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Bombay High Court. The High Court has ordered a CBI inquiry in the matter. The latest audit report by the Auditor General (AG) of Maharashtra also points to the mismanagement of funds, in which the incomplete work on residential schools features prominently.
Aimed to provide education to tribal children, these residential schools are provided with hostel facilities for boys and girls. Apart from primary and secondary sections, each school complex is also to be provided with the facility of a balwadi (child care centre) and an agricultural demonstration farm.
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The tribal commissionerate is entrusted with the work of running these schools while the public works department is to carry out their construction. At present, over 1 lakh students are studying in such schools.
During the audit, it was found that just 66 school buildings were completed in the last 10 years or so. The auditors especially noted that in the absence of proper buildings, the students had to face much hardship. The report said the a visit to two government-owned (Devargaon taluka, Trambakeshwar Nashi) and one aided ashram schools (Waghera) had revealed that the students did not have ample facilities. “A large number of students are living in one room, the students are not having separate hostel facility; instead they live in classrooms when the lectures are finished,” the report read.
It pointed out that despite incurring heavy expenditure on the construction of ashram schools, the department had not been able to do the needful for for tribal students.
The AG had noted that the funds transferred to PWD were lying idle. “It is also seen that the department was not keeping timely watch on the progress of the work done by PWD,” the report said.
V K Panmad, Deputy Commissioner, Tribal Welfare, agreed to the delay and said proper steps were being taken to rectify the situation. “On May 7, we had held a video conference with the PWD officials to discuss the delay. Due to the fact that a large amount of funds was released during the end of the year, it might look like lying idle,” he said.
Panmad added that the department had drawn up a time-bound programme to speed up the work.
However, tribal rights advocates point out the delay was one of the many ills plaguing the department. Prathibha Shinde, general secretary of Loksangharsha Morcha, said corrupt practices were preventing the funds meant for tribals from reaching them.
“In many of the ashram schools, food is not served properly to the children. Uniforms are not distributed in time and construction of the buildings is often of inferior quality,” she said.
Shinde, who had led a massive demonstration outside the tribal commissionerate, added that lack of proper vigilance had made the work of the office tardy. “Often the political leaders use the guise of construction of ashram schools to capture government land and put it to commercial use,” she alleged.