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HP Assembly Polls: ‘Double Engine’ Fails to Propel Education Sector in the State?

From 2017-18 to 2021-22, the state government did not spend Rs 4,159 crore out of its total allocation for education.

Representational use only.image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Shimla: In the run-up to polls on November 12, the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is seeking to change the pattern followed by the tiny hill state – by pushing its ‘mission repeat’ with all its might. 

In addition to the undercurrents of anti-incumbency and general dissatisfaction, it does not help that the performance of the Jai Ram Thakur-led BJP government has been poor. People from the state in the past have oscillated between two parties with every successive Assembly election. However, the BJP has shifted gears and the ruling party has planned simultaneous rallies in all 68 Assembly constituencies as part of its ‘Vijay Sankalp Abhiyan’ – relying heavily on its star campaigners.

At one such rally in Barsar of Hamirpur district, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said, “India has witnessed unparalleled growth during the Modi regime and the double-engine government in Himachal is a must for its continued development.” Union minister of state for external affairs and culture, Meenakshi Lekhi, also lauded the CM Jai Ram-led government in an event organised by the BJP in Shimla. She said, “The double-engine government has added to the pace of development in the state and also set social changes at every level.”

However, the ground reality narrates a different story, particularly, when it comes to the education sector.

Underspending or Apathy?

The HP state government has been unable to spend the amount allocated for education in Budgets over the years. According to data cited in replies to Lok Sabha questions, as of August 1, 2022, the gap between budget estimates and actual spending has increased continuously over the last 10 years. Between 2012-13 and 2021-22, the unspent amount in the education sector has accrued to a whopping Rs 6,406 crore.

What is noteworthy is that the bulk of this unspent amount appears to have accumulated during the current BJP regime. From 2017-18 to 2021-22, the state government did not spend Rs 4,159 crore out of its total allocation for education.

 Interestingly, the other part of the ‘double engine’ – the central government led by PM Narendra Modi – has been neglecting the education sector in the state. In 2019-20 and 2021-22, the Centre did not release Rs 437 crore to Himachal, although the amount was allocated for projects approved under the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan. For this period, the unspent balance under the scheme is Rs 701 crore.

Posts Remain Vacant

There are 1,788 vacant posts in elementary education, 473 positions vacant in secondary education and over 100 posts vacant in colleges, as per the information provided by Education Minister Govind Thakur in the monsoon session of the Assembly this year. 

In a written reply to Jawalamukhi MLA, Thakur informed him that there are 1,785 primary schools in Himachal Pradesh where the number of students is less than 10. At the same time, the number of teachers in a school in Kangra is more than the sanctioned posts and no other district has more teachers than the sanctioned posts. 

Experts believe that this is the first time in the history of the state that so many posts are vacant. “In my entire career, I have never seen more than 100 posts of principals being vacant in colleges,” said Dr Ghanshyam Singh Chauhan, a retired professor who taught at Himachal Pradesh University, while speaking to NewsClick

When asked about the reason behind so many vacancies, Chauhan said, “Because they don’t have money to fill these posts (recruit)!”

The BJP government has in fact struck off TA (Travelling Allowance) and DA (Dearness Allowance) of many teachers deputed at neighbouring colleges. TA and DA were also given to teachers during inter-college activities earlier. A professor, requesting anonymity, told NewsClick, “Because they don’t have new recruitments; so, they used to send us for three days to one college and three days to another on deputation. For that, they used to give us TA, which they have also stopped.”

Despite the CM’s claim of 16% state budget allocation to education and the much-used ‘double engine’ narrative, it is quite astonishing that the state is struggling to fill the vacant posts. Staying true to form, BJP has tried to distract people from the real issues with tools such as the announcement to introduce Bhagavad Gita in school syllabi.

Corruption-free HP?

In the small hill state, as the BJP roars about making the state corruption-free, several multi-crore scams have been unearthed – undermining the saffron party’s tall claims.

Around 2 lakh youths appeared for the police recruitment examination this year; however, the question paper for the exam had been leaked. The news of the paper leak came three months after the exam was conducted and the entire recruitment process was cancelled under pressure from the Congress-led Opposition.

Allegedly, people paid Rs 6 lakh to Rs 8.25 lakh for pamphlets of the police recruitment examination. After the paper leak was busted, it was found that the scam was worth more than Rs 250 crores, which ruined the prospects of more than 2 lakh applicants in the state.

During the investigation, 200 suspects in the paper leak case were arrested, most of whom were candidates who had paid money to buy the paper. According to several government officials requesting anonymity, the ruling party ensured that higher-ups involved in the scam were not touched.

“There have been irregularities in appointments at Himachal Pradesh University, Central University, Cluster University, Mandi, IIT Mandi, Hamirpur IIIT, Medical College, Nerchok, Hydro Engineering College, Bilaspur, AIIMS, Bilaspur and other institutions as well,” a senior journalist told NewsClick.

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