As a controversy erupted over the Human Resource Development Ministry’s decision to observe December 25 as ‘Good Governance Day’, HRD Minister Smriti Irani tried to defuse the situation on Monday, saying that only a “voluntary” online essay competition, which did not require students to go to school, was being conducted.
However, her ministry had issued a circular last Tuesday asking schools to conduct a string of activities, including declamation, quiz competitions and documentary screenings on Christmas.
The ministry’s December 9 circular, which has been accessed by The Indian Express, states that it has been “decided to observe December 25, which is the birth anniversary of Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee and also Shri Madan Mohan Malaviya, as Good Governance Day”. Urging “active participation” of students in the Expression Series being organised by the CBSE, the circular says that “it is suggested that the celebrations during the day may also include” activities like “declamation contest on topics related to good governance, quiz competitions, screening of documentaries and films on best practices in good governance, organisation of various activities through child cabinets in the schools and innovative programmes pertaining to problem solving relating to day to day functioning of the school”.
“It is requested that a detailed report on the activities undertaken along with the photographs, video recordings may be uploaded on your departments’ website and also be sent to MHRD,” the circular states.\
Though the circular sent to bodies such as the Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti (NVS) and Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS) does not state December 25 will be a working day, the activities mentioned are such that they require students to be physically present in school.
A day after the ministry’s circular, the NVS issued one on December 10, asking its schools to celebrate the birth anniversary of Vajpayee and Malaviya “in its true spirit” by holding the activities listed in the circular. However, in a subsequent clarification on Monday, NVS commissioner G S Bothyal told the regional officers not to go ahead with the celebrations till the CBSE issues a circular in this regard.
KVS wrote back to the ministry on Monday expressing its inability to hold any events that require students’ presence since winter vacations begin before December 25.
In a press statement on Monday, the HRD Ministry clarified, “This online essay competition is completely voluntary and the students, if they so desire, can participate from their homes or any other place which provides online access. There is no requirement for any school to remain open on that day and the school vacations will be adhered to.”
It added, “No child or student will be deprived of celebrating the holidays or vacations or participating in their own festivals and religious festivals wholeheartedly.”
The ministry also said it had not issued any instructions to state governments.
In a series of tweets, Irani said all schools will remain closed for Christmas and the essay competition will be “online” and is “voluntary”.
Outside the Parliament, Irani told reporters, “It is unfortunate that misreporting has been deliberately done… controversy has been created to grab headlines… December 25 is Christmas and will be celebrated like that and schools will be shut.”