Dire state of Delhi's schools exposed

7th September 2001 at 01:00

LOCAL government officials in Delhi have massively underspent state funds on education, leaving schools to operate in dire conditions and causing high pupil drop-out rates, says a damning new report.

In an unprecedented move, the state of Delhi has ordered the city's authorities to sign an undertaking to improve their performance or forfeit pound;15 million in funding for primary schools.

The sanctions were announced following the release of a report by the state planning department which surveyed 636 of the 2,704 primary schools run by the civic body. It painted a grim picture of the schools, but revealed that for the past three years the municipal corporation had returned huge amounts of funds made available for schools. Last year the corporation spent only pound;10m out of pound;19.4m allocated.

Finance minister for the state of Delhi, Mahinder Singh Saathi, said:

"Municipal officials surrender almost 50 per cent of the budget. They do not use these funds to improve primary schools and we are now left with little choice except to crack a whip."

The civic authorities have complained that funds are released too late for them to implement schemes in time. Pupils often fail to get their winter uniforms, textbooks or meals. Incompetence, not corruption, is the main reason for underspending.

The duplicity of various agencies involved in the running and maintenance of schools has led to the present situation, with each one holding the other responsible. The electricity department, for example, blames the authorities for failing to pay the bills so schools had no electricity.

Primary schools in particular are in a sorry state. Almost a third have no drinking water facilities and 6 per cent do not have access to hand pumps or taps. Half of the schools surveyed did not have water in the toilets and 37 per cent had choked septic tanks leading to unclean toilets.

Only two schools surveyed provided midday meals; at least another 1,055 classrooms were needed; 38 per cent of the schools had half-finished premises and 6 per cent did not even have buildings. About 34 per cent had broken or leaking roofs and 148 schools were declared "totally unsafe". Textbooks, uniforms and blackboards were in short supply. The drop-out rate was around 25 per cent and 17 per cent of those enrolled did not attend school regularly.

Mr Singh said that though the government has already released pound;4.8m as the first instalment for the civic body,"unless they are able to promise discipline in spending, we will not allocate them a second instalment".

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