For Punjab schools,poetry with maidens,marijuana

Supply withdrawn,probe ordered into contracts to private firms

Written by Chitleen K Sethi | Chandigarh | Published: May 31, 2013 12:37 am

Books and stationery forced on Punjab’s government schools,their supply since withdrawn,are at the centre of a controversy that has led to a judicial probe. Published by private firms chosen by officials of the education department,the library books and notebooks have upset schools with their content and pricing,while the opposition has questioned the selection of the firms.

The Congress has demanded Education Minister Sikander Singh Maluka’s resignation. Members of the departmental teams that chose the suppliers are said to be close to Maluka,who in turn is known to be close to Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. Maluka has denied any role in the selections,saying the committee he set up “seems to have done some wrong”.

Practical notebooks for physical education,introduced last August,illustrate best the kind of material forced on the schools. According to entries in the notebooks’ information section,a kho-kho field is 16 metres long and 2.75 cm wide,and the net on a table tennis board is 1.83 cm long. There are errors in the science notebooks too.

The library books contain a song glorifying cheating in examinations,poetry aimed at an adult readership,and prose against Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Most of the books and stationery can be bought in the market at rates cheaper than the suppliers’.

Following a preliminary probe by the director general for school education,the judicial inquiry will be taken up by former high court judge A N Jindal. Three officers in the education department have been suspended.

“Maluka should resign on moral grounds,” says Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa. An unfazed Maluka says,“I have nothing to do with any of these scams. I had constituted a committee,which seems to have done something wrong. A probe is on and if anyone has done anything wrong,he will have to face the consequences,and that includes me.”

Punjab Congress spokesperson Sukhpal Singh Khaira says,“Retired judge Jindal’s family in Rampura Phool is well known to Maluka. It is a sham inquiry meant to bail Maluka out.”

The selection

In March 2012,Mohali district education officer Vinod Kumar,nodal officer for the education officers of all districts,wrote to these officers that teachers should ensure that students from the next session buy only government-approved practical notebooks from selected firms. This was for 14 lakh students in classes VI to XII in government schools. “If a teacher does not make a student buy these notebooks,take action against them and inform me,” wrote Kumar,since suspended.

Three private firms were chosen through a tendering/quotation process in August 2012. The notebooks,which came at Rs 50 to Rs 80 when those available in the market cost as low as Rs 16,carried the seal and logo of the government on the cover.

On February 28,Maluka constituted a committee for the purchase of educative books for libraries in government primary and upper primary schools. Headed by director of public instructions (elementary) Prithpal Kaur,it included Vinod Kumar and Gurtej Singh,an employee with the Punjab School Education Board. Kaur and Singh are the other two suspended.

The committee called for tenders through newspaper advertisements on March 3. For the selection,it set up a second committee,which had Praveen Kumari (the headmistress of a school in Maluka,the minister’s village),Jarnail Singh (Bathinda’s district science supervisor who had worked as personal assistant to the minister),Harkanwaljit Kaur (the district education officer) and Sanjiv Bhushan,a Hindi teacher.

The tender was given to a Sardoolgarh firm. According to the preliminary probe by K S Pannu,director general for school education,the company’s taxpayer identification number revealed that it was dealing in RCC pipes.

On March 22,the department directed all primary and middle schools in Punjab to purchase 55 books of the firm for its libraries. The firm would have mopped up Rs 9.28 crore of Sarv Sikhya Abhiyaan funds that had been released to schools for purchase of library books from the government’s language department. Among the books was Robinson Crusoe,which had a printed price of Rs 270 while a similar edition can be bought elsewhere at Rs 150. But it was the content that stunned the schools.

What they contain

One of the books,Kanwal Kahenda Riha by Jaswant Singh Kanwal,contains an open letter to Rajiv Gandhi,the contents of which were once banned in Punjab. It says,“Nehru,Mahatma Gandhi have always acted against farmers,labourers and Dalits.” At one point,it attacks Parkash Singh Badal too,“Badal is yet to mature in his thinking.”

Ram Patari parodies Sayeen Ve,a well-known Punjabi song. The rewritten lyrics translate as,“Show me the answersheet of the one in front of me / Get me help from the one behind me / Please ensure the teacher keeps sitting at one place / …We can use chits for cheating!”

In the collection Mewe Chaman De is a Punjabi poem that goes,“One evening a bhang dish had a fight with a bottle of alcohol…” One book has a folk song that translates as,“The maiden came out sizzling like the fire of marijuana after a bath in the village pond,” and Suchhe Moti has a poem whose verses include,“A bachelor asks for the company of a maiden promising her a necklace,while another says he’ll garland her.”

Besides the practical notebooks and library books,the purchase committee wrote to district education officers on March 28,authorising two firms to provide master maps and atlases for classes VI to XII. The cost of each of the maps ranges from Rs 35 to Rs 75.

Also,when Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan funds of Rs 7.5 crore were to be released for lab equipment in 754 schools,the committee ordered that science kits be delivered by five Ambala firms. The schools were issued authorisation letters to buy these kits,each of which cost almost Rs 1 lakh. The RMSA grant had not reached the schools,which said they could not pay.

The delivery of all material under the probe has been stopped until further orders.

PAGE PREVIEW

16 m × 2.75 cm Size of a kho-kho field

1.83 cm Length of the net on a table tennis board

9-10m Height of a “rectangular” boxing ring

(From Physical education practical notebook)

From Kanwal Kahenda Riha

“Nehru,Mahatma Gandhi have always acted against farmers,labourers,Dalits”

“(CM) Badal is yet to mature in his thinking”

From Mewe Chaman De

“One evening a bhang dish had a fight with a bottle of alcohol…”

From a book of folk songs

“The maiden came out sizzling like the fire of marijuana after a bath in the village pond”

From Suchhe Moti

“A bachelor asks for the company of a maiden promising her a necklace

While another says he’ll garland her”

From Ram Patari

“Show me the answersheet of the one sitting in front of me

Get me help from the one sitting behind me

Please ensure the teacher keeps sitting at one place

…We can use chits for cheating!”

The minister

In November 2011,agitating teachers started to heckle Harsimrat Badal,SAD MP,outside the venue of a function in Bathinda. Sikander Singh Maluka,the party’s district president,yanked some of the teachers by the collar and assaulted them. Images of the incident are still circulating online. Maluka,a matriculate,went on to be made education minister the next year.

A loyalist of the chief minister,Maluka won his first election from Rampura Phool in 1997 and was made irrigation minister,a tenure during which he faced allegations of trying to hush up a corruption inquiry. He allegedly misbehaved with Bathinda’s then deputy commissioner,S R Ladhar,following which 11 IAS,IPS and PCS officers complained to the chief minister. He lost the next two elections before winning again in 2012.

He is president of the Punjab Kabaddi Association,chairman of the All India Circle Style Kabaddi Association,and vice president of the Punjab Olympic Association. He remains SAD president in Bathinda,and is chairman of the district planning committee.

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