In a letter written by the nodal officer of school education,Vinod Kumar,to all state district education officers (DEOs),it has been shockingly revealed that Punjabs school education department facilitated the exploitation of 14 lakh secondary and senior secondary government school students by forcing them to buy practical notebooks printed by a particular private publisher.
In the letter,written in March,Kumar,who is also the Mohali DEO,rued that the sale of government-approved notebooks was not up to mark in 2012-2013. He added that in the new session,all teachers should ensure that students only buy government approved practical notebooks.
If a teacher does not make a student buy these notebooks,take action against them and inform me, said Vinod Kumar in his instructions. (A copy of the letter is with The Indian Express).
Though the private publisher was chosen through a tendering process undertaken mid-session in August,2012,on the pretext of providing subsidised practical notebooks to government school students,there are better and cheaper practical notebooks available in the open market.
However,the students are being asked by their teachers to buy only government approved notebooks. Interestingly,these notebooks have been published using the seal and logo of the Punjab government on the cover.
The entire exercise was allegedly carried out on the instructions of Education Minister Sikandar Singh Maluka,DPI secondary Kamal Garg and Kumar.
Having given monopoly rights to a single printer who stands to earn crores from a niche market the department is also now making sure that practical notebooks of other printers are not bought by students.
When students were first asked to procure these practical books in the last session,they exercised their free choice and purchased them from the markets.
However,in March,Kumar asked DEOs to ensure that teachers tell their students to buy only government-approved practical notebooks.
Encouraged by the governments open support,the private publisher itself wrote to school principals on April 10,quoting Vinod Kumars ans letter asking them to make sure that students buy the companys notebooks. This letter was also put up on the official website of the education department,only to be hurriedly removed later. (A copy of the letter is with The Indian Express).
While these government approved notebooks cost between Rs 28 to Rs 35 each for classes VI,VII and VIII,a survey of the market revealed that a simple practical notebook is available for Rs 15 to Rs 20.
The notebooks being forcefully supplied by the government come in the category of fancy practical notebooks in which a large part of the text from the text book is reproduced on the first 10 or 15 pages of the notebook. This text is not required and a basic practical notebook with a blank page on one side and a ruled page on the other is enough. Most students do not buy fancy notebooks from the market, pointed out a school teacher in Mohali.
To justify its move of choosing one particular printer and declare the books government approved,the Punjab government had claimed last year that from now onwards practical note-book of Rs 190 will be available for Rs 50,similarly notebooks of Rs 80 will be made available for Rs 39 and notebooks of Rs 60 can be bought for Rs 28.
However,there are no practical notebooks even the fancy one available in the market at the inflated costs projected by the government. Most are available at much cheaper or comparable rates with the ones being imposed upon on the students.
BOX: What they say:
Education Minister Sikander Singh Maluka: There is nothing wrong with the notebooks. These are good quality practical notebooks being supplied to the students at subsidised rates
Nodal officer Vinod Kumar: The printers were not supposed to use the logo of the Punjab government. For the mistakes in the text,we have issued them a show cause notice. They have been given the contract till August 2013 and it is their notebooks which will be used in Punjab schools. There is no scam in the whole thing. Not a single penny has been spent by the government. The whole idea of minister Maluka was that students get good quality books at subsidised rates.
Principal secretary Education Anajali Bhawra: A delegation of the Punjab Publishers Association has met on the issue. I am yet to take a decision on the matter.
DPI Schools Kamal Garg: There were some questions raised regarding mistakes in these notebooks. I had sought a report on that and have received it. I will be forwarding it to the government. The printer was not permitted to use the seal of the Punjab government on the cover of the notebooks. I have not issued any orders that the students are free to buy books from anywhere.
Then principal secretary of school education Hussan Lal: I have nothing to do with the whole thing. The tendering was carried out at DPI level. I was consulted,but I refused to go along with this.
Director general of school education,Kahan Singh Pannu: The minister has said we cannot give statements to the press.