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June 21, 2003


by Eduardo Faleiro

Education Ministers from SAARC countries held a 3-day meeting at Islamabad last month. The purpose of the meeting was to co-ordinate strategies to combat illiteracy, improve quality and
eliminate gender inequality in Education. These are priority themes  in the SAARC agenda and Islamabad is the venue of the SAARC Regional Centre for Human Resource Development. It is regrettable that neither our Union Minister nor any of our several Ministers of State  in the Ministry of Human Resource Development could find the time to attend this meeting. Their absence was in furtherance of the Government decision that Ministerial contacts between the two countries even on non-controversial subjects such as Education would  be conditional on the success of the new Indo-Pak "peace initiative" which itself is subject to several conditions and pre-conditions.

The ineptude of the two major countries of the sub-continent to  settle their bilateral disputes hampers not merely the progress of their own people but also of other countries of the region which are held hostage to the quagmire of the Indo-Pak conundrum.

Last November UNESCO released the "Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2002: Is the World on Track?" The report points out that among the 154 countries for which data is available 28 are not expected to attain any of the three objectives which the international community gathered at the World Education Forum two years ago had agreed should be achieved by all nations by the year 2015. The three goals are universal primary education, free schooling of acceptable quality and removal of gender disparities in Education. All the countries of South Asia with the exception of Sri Lanka are among these 28 countries. Bangladesh has made considerable progress in recent years but India and Pakistan continue to be high on rethoric but low on performance. Indeed, South Asia is fast emerging as the most illiterate, most malnourished, least gender sensitive, the most deprived region of the world today. And yet it
continues to make more investment in arms than in education and health of its people. India and Pakistan spend more than three times in imports of military hardware than they spend on literacy and education. About a year and a half ago the Union Government introduced in Parliament and with unusual alacrity passed during the same session the 93rd Constitution Amendment Bill to provide universal and compulsory elementary Education. The Constitution
Amendment was in fact unnecessary inasmuch as the Supreme Court in Unnikrishnan's case had held that the fundamental right to Education already exists in our Constitution and is implicit in the Right to Life (article 21). I asked the Minister of Human Resource Development during the last session of Parliament why this Constitutional mandate had not yet been implemented. The reply, "the 83rd Constitution Amendment is to be followed by a Central
legislation with detailed mechanism for its implementation." When will this Central legislation be enacted and when will it be implemented? Government is not prepared to spend the amounts
required for universalisation of primary education. Indeed, the budget allocation this year for the Department of Elementary Education of the Union Government is marginally lower than the budget allocation last year before enactment of the Constitution Amendment. The Tapas Majumdar Committee appointed by the Union Government in 1996 had assessed the demand for universalisation of elementary education at Rs.13,700 crore each year for a period of 10 years.

The 93rd Constitution Amendment Bill in its financial memorandum mentions a much reduced requirement of Rs.9,800 crore per year and finally the budget provides for the project Education for All, "Sarva Siksha Abhiyan" an allocation of Rs.1,500 crore. The allocation for Sarva
Siksha Abhiyan bears no resemblance to the requirement assessed by the Tapas Majumdar Committee and not even by the Bill passed in Parliament. Indeed, the Minister of Human Resource Development admitted in reply to my special mention in the Rajya Sabha "this (the
budget allocation) is less than what we had projected and we have taken up the issue of enhancing our allocation with the Finance Ministry and the Planning Commission". The Finance Ministry and the Planning Commission are unlikely to respond favourably to the pleas
of the Ministry of Human Resource Development. Our economic reforms and the globalisation process have focused on integrating markets but have neglected the development of Human Resources; yet the emergence of the "knowledge society" in the new millennium where knowledge is the primary source of wealth rather than capital or labour makes
universal literacy a must.

70 percent of the expenditure on universalisation of Primary Education is to be borne by the State Governments. The State Governments, however, are not likely to do so as they are markedly short of resources. Furthermore, the States are not being consulted either on this or other policy matters regarding Education. The Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE) which is the forum specifically intended for such consultations has not met for the last
several years. In the recent judgement of the Supreme Court in the Aruna Roy Case a three judge bench emphasized the importance of CABE and two judges, J.J. Dharmadhikari and Sema directed the Union Government to consider convening this forum. Justice Sema elaborated the point and held : "While it is true that the CABE is a non-statutory body, one cannot overlook the fact that it has been in existence since 1935. It has also been accepted as an effective instrument of meaningful partnership between the States and the Centre, particularly in evolving a consensus on major policy issues in the field of Human Resource Development. I am, therefore, of the view that the importance of the role played by CABE cannot be side
tracked on the plea that the body is non-statutory, particularly when it has been playing an important role in the past for evolving a consensus on the major policy decisions involving national policy on educationŠ There is yet another reason as to why consultation of
this Board is highly essential in the issues like relating to the State and Central co-ordination in evolving a national consensus pertaining to national policy on education which require
implementation in all the States, as the education has now been brought to the concurrent list by the 42nd amendment to the Constitution. This would dispel the lurking suspicion in the minds of the people and also will project transparency and purity in the decision making process of the governmentŠ The Union of India is, therefore, directed to consider the filling up of the vacancies of the nominated members of CABE and convene a meeting of CABE for seeking its opinion on National Curriculum Framework for School Education (NCFSE) as expeditiously as possible and in any case before the next academic session".

Government of India has shown no inclination to comply with this directive of the Supreme Court. Education is a subject in the Concurrent List of the Constitution and no policy on education can be deemed to be a National Policy without the concurrence of the States.

The Supreme Court in the aforesaid Aruna Roy Case cautioned Government about the danger of religious education being perverted. The National Steering Committee on Textbook Evaluation was constituted in 1991 by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. The Committee submitted two reports which indicted several textbooks and organizations for using material of a sectarian character. On April 6, 2001 in reply to questions in Parliament, Government stated
"the two reports of the Committee were circulated to the State Governments by the NCERT for necessary follow up action. No feedback has been received from the States." Two years have now elapsed but subsequent queries elicited no further information. A secular and
liberal education is pivotal to the agenda of Peace and Tolerance, the two essentials of an enlightened and forward looking society.

(The writer is a Member of Parliament and a former Union Minister)




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