The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has slammed the Maharashtra government for the shoddy condition of tribal boarding schools or ashramshalas in the state.
In a performance audit report presented to the state legislature on August 5, the CAG has observed that these schools were bereft of even basic facilities even as the government had spent several thousand crores on their upkeep. It has also criticised the government for a steady decline in the number of students in these ashramshalas, blaming lack of quality infrastructure in these institutions.
This newspaper had earlier highlighted how many children, including teenage girls, in some of these residential schools had no choice but to bathe in the open and how they were being made to study and sleep in the same room. The Maharashtra Human Rights Commission had pulled up the state government following the newspaper report. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has also ordered an “urgent revamp” of these institutions.
Maharashtra has 1,108 ashramshalas: 552 government-run, the rest government-aided. The CAG’s report has further pointed out that the state had been implementing schemes for tribal welfare without a long-term perspective plan for the past 22 years. “There was also no periodical assessment of the various schemes making it difficult to ascertain if the objective of betterment of the tribal community had been met,” it said.
According to the CAG report, the Maharashtra government spent Rs 3,451.18 crore on various schemes for the betterment of the tribal community between 2010 and 2015, with a large chunk of it — Rs 1,729.57 crore — spent on the management of ashramshalas. However, despite this, admissions to government ashramshalas have steadily declined from 2.07 lakh students in 2011-12 to 1.96 lakh in 2014-15 against a sanctioned strength of 2.63 lakh, the report said. “This was indicative of the fact that the tribal development department had not been able to formulate a viable policy to attract the tribal community to get their wards admitted to government ashramshalas,” it stated.
Auditors claimed to have surveyed 52 government ashramshalas. Most tribal schools lacked basic facilities like toilets, teachers, playgrounds and so on, it found. Information provided by 27 of the 52 ashramshalas showed that at least 12 did not have teachers for Hindi, 10 lacked Mathematics teachers and 17 were without any teachers for Science and Social Science for the past five years, the CAG audit said.
Also, the 52 government ashramshalas with 27,470 students had just 796 toilets and 704 bathrooms, translating to roughly one toilet for 35 students and one bathroom for 39 students.
“The tribal students were also not being provided foodgrains as per the scales prescribed by the department. The catering services contracts with the private service providers for supply of ready-to-eat meals to government hostels were lopsided. There were significant delays in construction of new government ashramshalas and hostels,” it pointed out.
The government procured 1,789 solar water heaters for Rs 28.64 crore for 425 ashramshalas and 79 hostels. However, 76 per cent of the solar water heaters were lying unserviceable in the ashramshalas and hostels. “This not only rendered an expenditure of Rs 21.43 crore in procurement of 1,331 water heaters unfruitful, but also deprived inmates of hot water facilities, especially during winter season,” the CAG report said.
In the state government’s educational and scholarship schemes for educating tribal students in renowned English-medium schools of the cities, a test check of 892 applications for 2010-2015 for Standard I in 16 private schools showed that 63 applications and 54 applications were accepted without caste and income certificates, respectively.
Water transport project
The CAG also rapped the government over its indecision on the proposed passenger water transport project for Mumbai, leading to a wasteful expenditure of nearly Rs 21 crore. The state government changed the implementing agency for the project, originally conceived in 1999, on two occasions – first, the Mumbai Maritime Board, then the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation and then once again the Mumbai Maritime Board. The two agencies invited bids on five occasions for the east and west coast water transport projects, leading to multiple surveys and feasibility reports amounting to Rs 20.95 crore.
The CAG also criticised the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) for spending Rs 4.17 crore on the appointment of an independent engineer for the Charkop-Bandra-Mankhurd Metro, despite the project being unable to take off due to environment hurdles. The project was to be undertaken on a PPP through the MMTPL.
The MMRDA maintained that the expertise of the independent engineer was necessary for activities such as site surveys, identifying utilities and so on, before starting the project.
The authority said the services of the independent engineer would also be required while foreclosing the concession agreement with MMTPL to avoid future litigation. However, the CAG audit said the reply was not acceptable as MMRDA was well aware that in the absence of a clear environment clearance the project was a non-starter, and thus the services of the independent engineer were rendered futile.