A sickening odour pervades the narrow lanes of JJ Colony, in Madanpur Khadar village of southeast Delhi. The locality hosts more than 10,000 families employed to do menial jobs in the nearby posh colonies of Lajpat Nagar, Kalkaji, CR Park and Greater Kailash. A sweeping lockdown destroyed the livelihoods of these families, forcing many to them to return to their villages. The worst affected in these families are the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) class 10 and 12 students, who can’t afford the examination fees.
The precarious situation is now a reality for more than 3 lakh students in the national capital who are set to take the board exams next year. The students are required to pay fees ranging from Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,500 depending on the number of subjects, including practical exams. While the CBSE Board has refused to exempt the fees, the Directorate of Education, Delhi, has expressed its inability to pay it.
In his letter addressed to the CBSE chairperson, director of education Udit Prakash Rai wrote that the Board should exempt the fees. “The CBSE is requested to waive off the examination fees of class 10 and 12 students enrolled at government, government-aided, Patrachar Vidyalaya, New Delhi Municipal Council, Delhi Cantonment Board and Department of Social Welfare schools for the current academic session 2021-22 as a one-time measure.”
Reminding the chairperson that such parents can’t afford to pay the fees, Rai further wrote: “After a long time, formal education has started once again in schools. Now, the problem regarding paying the CBSE examination fees has emerged before the parents. A number of requests have been received from parents expressing their inability to pay the examination fees due to loss of income in the ongoing pandemic.”
Anjali, a class 12 student, told Newsclick that the very idea of leaving school made her numb. “I had never thought that I would have to quit my school, where I studied for 11 years because my parents cannot pay my fees. The teachers started harassing us by saying that we should pay the fees by September 24 or else take our transfer certificates.” Students from other localities have stopped attending school as they failed to arrange the examination fees, she added.
Narrating her ordeal, Anjali said, “My mother fell from the stairs and is now awaiting surgery at Safdarjung Hospital. My father recently joined work. When I asked for money from my neighbour, he refused because he lost his job as well.”
Mohit, a class 10 student, said that the school officials are well aware of the financial crisis of these families. His mother Renu Devi, who belongs to a landless family in Bihar’s Madhubani, had expected a better life for her three children when she came to Delhi. “The government doesn’t realise how much efforts we make to continue our children’s education. Not allowing our children to take the exam due to non-payment of fees is too harsh for us in these difficult times,” a visibly sad Devi said.
Devi’s husband, an electric generator mechanic, is jobless. “My other two children passed class 12 but cannot study further due to lack of money. It’s a curse that children willing to study cannot continue due to lack of money,” she said. Her sister-in-law Rina Devi interjects to say that the children didn’t even have the essential study material. “The situation is so difficult that I literally begged for books from families whose children had passed class 10.”
Sudha Kanojia, from the washermen community, arranged the fees of her daughter from another family. “I dread the fate of my parents. I shall do everything to ensure that my family is out of this hell. The women run the families here because men have abandoned their duties and take drugs,” she told Newsclick.
Ashok Agarwal, a leading right-to-education activist and senior advocate, said that the Delhi government cannot deprive students of their right to education and should pay their fees. “The Right to Education [Article 21-A] clearly mentions that the state should make every effort to retain students in schools and it cannot abandon its duty. Going by the Delhi Government’s logic, it could not pay their fees because of a financial crunch last year. But the revenue has increased this year after the government exited the liquor business and allowed complete ownership by private players. The ministers are claiming that the revenue has surpassed their expectations,” he told Newsclick.
According to Agarwal, the Delhi government “agreed to pay the fees in 2019 because it wanted to return in power. The government spends Rs 500 crore on publicity and promotion every year. The entire cost of paying the fees would be about Rs 110 crore. Therefore, the argument that it cannot fund the fees is baseless”.