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Bibek Debroy: Scrap the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan

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After talking of the need for accountability, the ignores this.
 
Let me begin with a quote from the Draft Approach Paper to the 11th Five Year Plan (2007-12). "The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and are ambitious programmes for providing primary education and primary health services universally. All these programmes are meant to give a new deal to rural India." In subsequent sections, the Draft mentions the 2 per cent education cess imposed in 2004-05, "earmarked for the SSA which aims at useful and relevant elementary education to all children in the age group 6-14 by 2010." Whether the cess was earmarked for elementary education is a moot point, but the Planning Commission presumably knows best. We are told that "near 100 per cent" enrolment of 6-14 year olds is likely to be achieved by the end of the 10th Plan (2007), but that the dropout rate in primary schools is 31 per cent (2003-04). So retention is still a problem and this is linked to issues like decentralisation of management in schools, lack of physical infrastructure, need to work, inadequate quality and quantity of teachers and so on. Finally, there is the Mid Day Meal Scheme (MDMS) and "school health programmes should be revived and converged with MDMS and MDMS itself merged with the SSA." Notwithstanding some sentences about providing parents choice between public and private schools, the message thus is that the SSA and MDMS are the answer. They will give us the new deal for education.
 
The SSA has been functional since January 2001. We now have a performance audit of the SSA by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India for the year ended March 2005 and this was presented to Parliament on August 18 this year. Does the CAG has as optimistic a view of the SSA as the Planning Commission? Evidently not. "The objective of the SSA was to enroll all out-of -school children in school, education guarantee centres, alternate schools and back-to-school camps by 2003. The date was revised to 2005 only in March 2005. However, out of 3.40 crore children (as on April 1, 2001), 1.36 crore (40 per cent) children in the age group of 6-14 years remained out of school as on March 2005, four years after the implementation of the scheme and after having incurred an expenditure of Rs 11,133.57 crore." That's not very complimentary, is it? As the Approach Paper itself acknowledges, there is a difference between enrollment and retention. Himachal, Kerala, Goa and Mizoram don't represent all of India. There is Jharkhand, Bihar and Arunachal Pradesh. Moreover, there is a policy question. Has enrolment increased because of the SSA or because of the proliferation of private sector initiatives?
 
On the SSA's expenditure, the CAG adds, "The budget calendar for financial management and procurement has not been implemented by the Ministry which resulted in delay in finalisation of the Annual Work Plan and Budget (AWP&B) of the states and release of grants. The budget allocation and release of grants to the State Implementing Societies were below the amounts required as per their AWP&B. The budget estimates/revised estimates were far less than the outlay approved by the Department of Elementary Education and Literacy." Project Approval Board (PAB) meetings weren't held on time and that led to delayed release of funds by the ministry/states. Fund flows to districts, blocks and villages were affected. Funds released by ministry/states were less than outlays approved by the PAB. Revised budget estimates were only 43 to 57 per cent of approved budget estimates (2001-02 to 2004-05). From outlays approved by the PAB, fund releases varied between 4.02 per cent in Daman and Diu and 85 per cent in Tripura. There is more. "Funds were irregularly diverted to activities/schemes, which were beyond the scope of SSA. In the districts test checked by audit in 11 States, Rs 99.88 crore was spent on items not permitted under SSA. Besides, in 14 states/union territories, financial irregularities of Rs 472.51 crore were also noticed."
 
At one level, public resources are fungible. But ignoring that, Gujarat used the money to meet the expenditure of bhoomipujan of Gujarat Council of Education Research and Training Centre, Gandhinagar. Madhya Pradesh used the money for foundations. Meghalaya used the money for salaries of teachers, teachers who had nothing to do with the SSA. West Bengal used the money for purchasing computers, ACs, typewriters, photocopiers, fax machines, mobile phones and repairing bungalows. "In two districts of Jharkhand, school grant of Rs 47.88 lakh was released to 2,369 schools, which were non-existent." This is in addition to the problem of physical targets of the SSA not being met. But the government will tell us, these are implementing and monitoring problems. The SSA is an inherently good scheme, like all government expenditure schemes are, and all one has to do is to tighten it up. Except that the CAG report also tells us, "In cases where some monitoring was undertaken, monitoring reports were either not submitted or not analysed and follow-up action was not initiated." Makes you wonder about outlay/outcome/output and about a sentence plugged into the Approach Paper and thereafter ignored. "A powerful method of enforcing accountability is to enable parents to choose the schools where they will send their children."
 
Stated more explicitly, scrap the SSA in its present form.

 
 

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