Millennium Post

Infrastructural hiccups

One of the keys to good governance is an active assessment of shortfalls in policies. These assessments produce the underlying need for planned interventions so as to address lapses whilst implementing those policies. Lapses must be identified and addressed. While India has been high on infrastructural promises — $1.5 trillion plan to build infrastructure over the next five years — it is important to have a first-hand report of last-mile delivery of its promises that would be responsible in reflecting the ambitious goal. Infrastructural gaps lurking under the nose of administration while the latter eyes massive spending to spur economic growth is not an ideal scenario. A Parliamentary panel report identifying lapses in budgetary funding and utilisation has come up that requires immediate attention. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development via its report on the 2020-2021 demand for grants for school education had a few glaring concerns. The report submitted in Rajya Sabha cites fall of 27 per cent in budgetary allocations from proposals made by the School Education department. To be specific, a proposal for Rs 82,570 crore received an allocation of Rs 59,845 crore. The panel appalled at the glaring deficit in government school infrastructure. According to the Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE) 2017-18 survey, only around 56 per cent of government schools in the country have electricity and playgrounds; more shockingly, around 40 per cent of schools did not have a boundary wall only. Infrastructure woes were not restricted to this. The panel also highlighted the "dismal" rate of progress in building classrooms, labs and libraries to strengthen government higher secondary schools. The real shock lies in numbers. Out of 2,613 sanctioned projects for 2019-20, merely three had been completed so far (nine months). Those three were labs for physics, chemistry and biology out of 1,343 sanctioned labs to be built; no classrooms and no libraries. The secondary and primary schools displayed a better record of completion at 75 per cent and 95 per cent respectively. A glance through those numbers brings up the government's dual responsibility of infrastructural and educational progress. On one hand, the government envisages a fat infrastructure goal and an overarching programme for the school education sector extending from pre-school to class 12, but on the other, it fails to direct and utilise required funding to traverse that developmental trajectory. The panel's assessment report is, therefore, absolutely critical to take note of.

With the fiscal year set to end in another 20 days, it is imperative to allocate additional funds towards these schemes when revising estimates. While it is prudent to look at the economic viability of steps, especially when eying growth, a government cannot depart from its moral obligation of providing basic infrastructure to its schools across the country. Classrooms, libraries, playgrounds, electricity, etc., constitute the basic infrastructural needs of the education sector and the government's dismal performance in the same will only see students distancing themselves from government schools. Focussing on higher education in the country, the facts produced by the panel cast a grim outlook of real progress. The HRD ministry had cited a gross enrollment ratio (percentage of students in higher education of the total eligible population) of 26.3 in 2018-19. That is way behind when it comes to developed nations. And, it would remain so if infrastructural commitments are not fulfilled in time. Taking their own sweet time to realise the policy would bear a loss of countless students who could benefit from it right now. The panel in its capacity has indeed recommended the HRD ministry to collaborate with MGNREGS in constructing boundary walls and Ministry of New and Renewable Energy to provide solar or other renewable energy solutions so that schools have uninterrupted access to power. At this stage, in 2020, the government ought to feel compelled in providing such basic facilities that will ensure a sound educational environment for students. Lacking in basic requirements cannot be a prerequisite to big infrastructural ambitions. Good governance is not marked by prudent sounding policies but time-bound delivery of the same.

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