Punjab’s Finance Minister Manpreet Badal Saturday announced a grant of Rs 23.14 crore from the state budget to purchase benches for primary and middle government schools in Punjab in financial year 2018-19.
In his budget speech, he also claimed that during 2018-19, all remaining primary schools as well as all middle schools would be covered.
However, not a penny of Rs 21 crore, which was announced for same purpose in 2017-18 budget, has been utilized yet. In fact, the grant of Rs 21 crore is on the verge of lapse and if purchase order is not finalized soon, the amount will lapse after March 31.
In 2017-18, the government had allocated Rs 21 crore to buy benches for government primary schools in Punjab as in majority of schools, children of classes 1 to 5 sit on floor as there are no benches. There is no provision to buy benches under Sarva Shiskha Abhiyaan (SSA) and education department entirely depends on state government for school furniture expense.
A source from the education department confirmed that of Rs 21 crore announced last year, nothing has been used as the Controller of Stores department failed to finalize rates at which benches were to be purchased, which has delayed tender process.
In the ongoing final examinations, children were seen sitting on the floor, under the sun and trees due to lack of benches and space. It is a routine affair in government schools of Punjab, especially primary schools.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Prashant Goyal, Director General of School education (DGSE), Punjab, said efforts were on to get Rs 21 crore announced last year, released before March 31. He confirmed that the grant was still lying unutilized due to “procedural delay”.
“The purchase process is on. The Department of Controller of stores has to follow a proper procedure to finalize rates. We are trying to get 21 crore released before March 31 and not let it lapse,” he said. Asked about the delay, he said, “It was a procedural delay. All primary schools will be covered this year, surely.”
Teachers have questioned that how finance minister claimed in his speech that 21 crore have been used without checking the ground reality. “He has claimed that rest of schools will also be covered whereas reality is that even last year’s grant is unutilized and not a single bench has reached any school yet. Facts should be checked before making fresh announcements,” said a teacher.
It has also been proposed to install RO water purifiers in 1,500 government schools for Rs 9 crore and solar power systems in all senior secondary schools. One smart government school will be set up in each block and Rs 50 crore have been proposed for it.
Facing financial crisis, PU Patiala V-C hails additional grant
An additional one-time grant of Rs 50 crore has been announced for Punjabi University, Patiala, which is currently facing a financial crisis. Dr B S Ghuman, vice-chancellor of the varsity, said they had an outstanding bank loan of Rs 100 crore. “Our monthly salary bills are of Rs 30 crore (approx) whereas monthly grant from government was Rs 7.43 crore (per month) till now. Pensions are also pending. Grants make up just 20-22% of our fixed expenditures. Rest are recovered from fees, but this 50 crore additional grant has come as a breather for us,” he said.
It has also been announced to set up Maharaja Agrasen chair and Maharan Pratap Singh chair at the varsity, with an allocation of Rs 7 crore each and initial outlay of Rs 2 crore each.
6% increase in grant for varsities
At least six per cent increase in grant over the last year has been announced for Guru Nanak Dev University (Amritsar), Punjab Agricultural University (Ludhiana), Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (Ludhiana), Punjabi University (Patiala), Guru Ravidas Ayurved University (Hoshiarpur) and Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law (Patiala).