Vidya Lakshmi Yojana (VLY), a Gujarat government scheme to encourage girls to finish schooling by issuing Rs 2,000 bonds to them, not only suffers from operational flaws in defining and reaching out to beneficiaries, but also has glaring discrepancies in the conditional cash transfer (CCT) scheme that has been in place for over last 16 years since the launch of the scheme in 2002, according to a report of the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad and UNICEF.
The collaborated study on the implementation of scheme, however, notes that the government failed to provide information even under the Right to Information (RTI) Act and therefore lacked in data on how many of the bonds were realised. Consequently, the researchers used date from other reports like CAG among others for the report.
The Vidya Lakshmi Yojana was launched by the BJP government in 2002 when the dropout rate among girls between class I and class VIII was a staggering 35 per cent — almost one-third of girl students used to drop out from schools every year. To reduce and dropout rate and enhance education among girls, the government launched the scheme for girls belonging to below poverty line (BPL) families of urban areas and those living in villages reporting less than 35 per cent literacy levels.
As per the scheme, when girls enroll in class I of a government school, they are entitled to receive a Narmada Nidhi bond of Rs 2,000 (which was Rs 1,000 till 2012). On completion of class VIII, the bond is matured and returned to them with interest. The bond is purchased in the joint name of District Education Officer (DEO) or District Primary Education Officer (DPEO), the girl student, and parent/guardian on enrollment in Class I.
Although the government attributes the reduction in the dropout rate among girls — from 35 per cent in 2001-02 to mere 7.28 per cent in 2013-14 — because of the success of the VLY, the IIMA-UNICEF research found that the bonds were not attractive enough. The report stated that all households claimed that the mix of a very high gestation period of eight years and a “meagre” amount, ranging between Rs 3,500-4,000 for Rs 2,000 Narmada Nidhi bond due to the “fluctuating” interest rate — varied between 11 per cent and 8.5 per cent — made the scheme “not attractive enough or worth all the administrative hurdles”.
From 2003 to 2013, the state government purchased bonds worth Rs 163.24 crore in the scheme, as pointed out in the 2014 CAG report, and the annual interest rate given on the bond has been altered several times. Adding to it, the district-wise target for the Vidya Lakshmi bonds were not revised since 2004, two years after the introduction of the scheme, the report stated.
Even though the fall in dropouts has been significant since the inception of the scheme, it is difficult to ascertain whether and how much the scheme contributed to this, the report says. Moreover, the fall in dropout rates among boys in the same period has been larger. Consequently “sufficient information is not available to isolate the effects of this scheme in reducing dropouts,” the report points out. The report with specific field-based insights from Ahmedabad also reveals glaring discrepancies in the conditional cash transfer (CCT) scheme as “many eligible households not being able to access or being excluded from the scheme”.
Ahmedabad district has a target of 5,200. Against this, since 2005-06, the total number of bonds issued by the Ahmedabad Municipal School Board is 4,130. The least number of Vidyalakshmi bonds issued in Ahmedabad was in 2006-07 at 37. In 2017-18, only 360 bonds have been issued.
Going by the recent data tabled in the Assembly, Ahmedabad district has nearly 1.44 lakh BPL families. The report states that as the AMC area has more than 75 per cent of the 70 lakh individuals residing in Ahmedabad district (as per 2011 census), “there is a clear case of many “eligible households not being able to access or being excluded from the scheme”.
The researchers interviewed potential beneficiaries and stakeholders in urban Ahmedabad to find the scheme having “an acute lack of awareness among the studied sample and severe operational challenges and bottlenecks in implementation”. The sample survey of Ahmedabad reveals that only nine out of 44 interviewed BPL households who had girls in upper primary schools were aware of the scheme. There were only three households who were VLY bondholders from the nine households who knew. The other six households failed to get the bond issued on time or found out when it was too late, i.e. found out after the child had already finished class I.
None of the rest of the 26 households, formally having BPL cards with similar socio-economic backgrounds and with eligible girl children, exhibited awareness about the scheme when asked about the benefits and schemes availed in government schools, the report says.
“The scheme that is used as a reference by the state government in terms of declining drop out among girls and an improved sex ratio can only work if the parents are informed about it,” Prof Ankur Sarin, from the IIMA research team, says.
“As highlighted by the CAG report of 2014 and during interviews, a large number of households are unsuccessful in fulfilling required conditions, or supervisors and principals are unable to track successful beneficiaries if households migrate to other schools,” the report states. The report also says that the recall power of VLY was far lower than other schemes even among political representatives, as compared to the Kunwarbai nu Mameru scheme — a financial assistance scheme for parents at the time of their daughter’s marriage — and Saraswati Sadhna scheme under which bicycles are given to girls from Scheduled Caste families.
“Fourteen out of the 18 ward councilors we spoke to said that they had heard of VLY when asked as part of another 11 schemes; but none of the councillors went beyond acknowledging awareness,” says the report.
During their research, the team found that all school principals admitted that most of the bonds are issued during Praveshotsav, the annual enrollment drive of the government to boost education, but the administrative hurdles made it difficult to issue bonds once the drive was over. “Identification of ‘eligible’ households took place during the awareness drives and surveys conducted by teachers within the school’s neighbourhood,” the report mentions.
Co-researcher at IIM-A, Karan Singhal, infers that the scheme was only reaching those homes visited by the teachers or those who turned up for the annual enrollment drive. “These were the possible reasons why only one to three bond-holders per class were found in the interviewed schools,” says Singhal.
One of the schools covered in the survey had girls from BPL households enrolled. The school on paper fell in rural Ahmedabad but its geographical location being in the heart of Ahmedabad (city), the girls were not eligible for the policy. After delimitation of the city, there are still many schools that are covered under District Education Office (Ahmedabad Rural).
“The principal of the school claimed that while many schools in the vicinity fell within urban Ahmedabad had ‘eligible’ households, his school had “bad luck” as even though many of its girl students belonged to BPL households, none were eligible as per the rules of the scheme, which mandated that the “village” have less than 35 per cent literacy,” the report states.
One principal explained that many who are aware of the scheme are not able to avail the benefits as the BPL cards do not have the child’s name on it, the report stated. This was true for cases where the BPL card was primarily issued in the girl’s grandfather’s name. More recently, there has been a fear of linking Aadhaar (unique identity number) with schemes that require BPL cards; principals explained that even “genuine” households fear they might get penalised.
Among the households interviewed who were found to have a bond issued, all three had forgotten about it as it had been at least over five years without any reminders given by any administrative official. Having such a practice could lead to operational challenges and potentially unscrupulous cases, the report states, adding that the 2014 report of the CAG had identified cases where bonds were found to have only the DEO’s name and the names of both the child’s and parent’s name were missing.
“The major reason for dropping girl child out of school, cited by households and school principals, was sudden financial pressures or burdens arising due to sickness and death of a key earning member of the family. In such a situation, the current bond amount which the beneficiary household was promised to receive at a later date after fulfilling the conditions was insufficient to hedge the risk of households dropping their girls out of school,” the report says, adding the government must consider increasing the amount after due deliberation and evaluation.