In 1999 in Indore the district administration came out with two schemes for education – rationalization through closures and mergers of government schools and opening of new schools in slums and revenue-raising through commercial use of part of government school premises. These schemes, later replicated and extrapolated to policy, were protested through a roving street-exhibition starting Children’s Day 1999 based on a booklet, text of which is here.

The Indore Zila Sarkar seems to suddenly be taking a very keen interest in government school education this year! It accorded approval (in its meeting on 29 May 1999 under the chairmanship of the state’s Chief Minister Sh.Digvijay Singh) to two major interventions – rationalizing staffing in government schools and commercial development on school properties to raise resources for badly needed investments for school education. These interventions were based on recommendations made by the District Collector Sh.Manoj Srivastav in a report submitted to the Chief Minister. On 25 June 1999 the first of these proposals (rationalization of staffing) was extrapolated into a state policy. In pursuit of the state’s commitment to decentralization, the state Eductation Department gave District Planning Committees powers to transfers teachers, merge schools and set up new schools without additional state funds.

At face value these two interventions (rationalization and commercialization) seem to be long overdue unrelated measures to give a fresh lease of life to a collapsing state education system. But a closer look at their details (described in this booklet) makes it obvious that they are, in fact, well orchestrated steps towards the political goal of serving the interests of local land mafia, rather than towards the national goal of education for all.

School education is one of the few issues on which there is a nation-wide consensus. We believe that our nation believes that our children are our future. No one, least of all the state, has the right to deny them basic education, especially so in the service of short-term monetary gains for a few.

But this is precisely what has happened in Indore. Well-attended and well-equipped schools have been closed down for merger in the name of “rationalization” in areas where, incidentally, massive commercial development is proposed. Commercialization of school premises has been trumpeted as a necessary “radical” way of raising resources for education, even as state allocations for the purpose have lapsed and earlier similar exercises have not ploughed profits back to schools. And for doing all this the administration has won plaudits simply because it has “opened 103 new schools” in the city’s slums by writing “school” in chalk on the door of each of the existing community halls and transferring 3 “excess” teachers from existing schools elsewhere. It is another matter that the community halls are run-down, located in the midst of filth and squalor, meant for other activities and inadequate to house school functions. And it is yet another matter that these schools lack not only bare necessities of furniture, black boards, chalk and registers, but also students! So much for rationalization! So much for decentralization!

This booklet is about this tragic betrayal of our children. A betrayal perpetrated by none other than the constitutional custodians of their well being. A betrayal that must be stopped if we are not to have to hang down our heads in shame before our children.

Rationalization of staffing

The decision to rationalize staffing in government schools in Indore was taken on May 29, 1999 at a meeting of the District Planning Committee of Indore Zila Sarkar held under the Chairmanship of the Chief Minister and President of the Zila Sarkar, Shri Digvijay Singh. The basis of the decision to rationalize staffing in government schools is the fact that while there are teachers in government schools there are not enough students.

Attention to this situation was drawn by Indore’s District Collector and Secretary of Indore’s Zila Sarkar, Shri Manoj Srivastava in a report submitted to Shri Digvijay Singh. According to the Collector of Indore, there are 177 schools in Indore with enrollment of less than 45, including 9 schools with 10 or less students. He gave examples of primary schools where there were 3 teachers for 9 students, 3 teachers for 6 students and 9 teachers for 24 students and of 17 middle schools with poor enrollment (Nai Duniya, May 31, 1999). Also, in an answer to a question raised in the state assembly, the state education minister said in Indore there are 32 primary and 15 middle schools with enrollment of less than 50 (Dainik Bhaskar, June 2, 1999).

While the district collector’s and the state education minister’s figures on schools with low enrollment are not consistent, poor enrollment in government schools in Indore is, indeed, a well-known problem.

A newspaper report (Nav Bharat, May 17, 1999) said that, at present, only 55550 students are enrolled in government schools in the city, as compared to 203998 in 1986. During this period the number of government schools has also decreased from 346 to 323, even as the number of private schools has increased from 434 to 6322. With declining enrollment in government schools, the teacher-student ratio has changed from 1:34 to 1:25 between 1986-99, which seems very sub-optimal compared to the 1:45 that the state administration sees as being appropriate. The Collector said that, according to this norm, there are 743 excess teachers in Indore and another 13 in rural areas. After adjusting these against the deficit in other tehsils, there will be an excess of 417 teachers.

In this context, on 29 May 1999 the Zila Sarkar took the decision to rationalize staffing in government schools to arrive at a more optimal teacher student ratio and approved a proposal for opening 146 new schools to accommodate excess teachers, including 103 new primary schools in the slums of Indore city and 20 middle schools and 17 higher secondary schools elsewhere in the district (Nai Duniya, May 30, 1999).

A month later, the state administration extrapolated the Indore exercise into a state policy to give District Planning Committees the powers to assess the relevance/need of state-run educational institutions and take decisions to merge them into other institutions, and to rationalize staffing and set up new schools where they are needed to accommodate staff found to be excess. However, the District Planning Committees are obliged to set up only full-fledged institutions, not create any new posts nor use any state funds for buildings, furniture, etc. They may make use of MP/MLA funds, central and external funding and citizens’ participation to raise resources (Dainik Bhaskar, June 26).

Shortly after that the Collector reiterated these decisions and announced that new schools were being opened and orders for transfers had been issued to teachers identified as being excess at present (SDA, July 2, 1999). At the same time another newspaper report, which was not an official press release, provided details of 32 government schools in Indore that were being closed and merged into other government schools as part of the rationalization exercise (Nav Bharat, July1, 1999).

In effect, therefore, the Collector, Shri Manoj Srivastava, has taken the following measures to implement Indore Zila Sarkar’s decision on rationalizing staffing in government schools: identifying excess teachers in existing schools, transferring excess teachers to various places, opening new schools to accommodate excess teachers, closing some existing schools and merging them into others

Will these measures meet the objective of rationalizing staffing in government schools is a matter that merits close scrutiny in the interest of effective use of scarce public resources, in the interest of the nation’s commitment to education for all and in the interest of the spirit of decentralization and good governance.

Excess staff? Or less students?

Obviously, the problem of excess teachers can only be solved in one of two ways. Either the number of teachers should be reduced or the number of students should be increased through concerted efforts. Given the national goal of education for all, should the Indore Zila Sarkar be taking measures to reduce the number of teachers or to increase the number of students in its effort to rationalize the teacher-student ratio?

The only situation in which enrollment improvement efforts are not needed is when all existing schools are well attended and all children are attending schools. In Indore’s government schools, with poor and declining enrollment, this is hardly the case. There are several reasons for this (Box-1), notably sorry state of schools, poor quality of teaching, absence of schools at convenient distances, etc. Reducing teachers and merging schools will only exacerbate these problems – inadequate facilities in a given school will now have to meet the needs of more students after merger, poor quality of teaching will become poorer with fewer teachers, and children in areas where schools are closed will suffer.

The Indore Zila Sarkar has, for all practical purposes, initiated a measure that is bound to make the already pathetic enrollment situation even worse. Already, confusion created by this decision has encouraged parents to opt for private schools in the current academic year (Nav Bharat, July 1, 1999). And those who cannot afford these, such as slum children who were enrolled through a special voluntary drive, have no hope of joining a school this year.

This special drive, which succeeded in getting 102 slum children enrolled on the first day itself (media reports, July 2), proves that it is possible to improve enrollment in government schools. Moreover, the education department itself seems convinced of this. It has come up with a proposal for improving enrollment in government schools by creating pre-primary education facilities in them, which, incidentally, was also approved at the same meeting (Chautha Sansar, June 2, 1999). Given these recent initiatives, it is obvious that the Zila Sarkar could not possibly consider increasing school enrolment impractical. Could it be that, notwithstanding the national goal of education for all, it considers this unnecessary?

Box-1: Reasons for poor enrollment in government schools

Reasons for poor enrollment include the following: (Nav Bharat, May 17)

  • Buildings are in sorry state and playgrounds are encroached upon.
  • Schools do not come to contemporary expectations as they do not teach in English.
  • There is no facility for pre-primary classes, which is what “feeds” private schools.
  • Government teachers also work in private schools and encourage children to join them.
  • Frequent elections, programs like pulse polio, etc, pose demands on school premises and teachers. Also, teachers (about 400 at present) are attached to various offices and, besides, spend more time with politicians than they do teaching.

A newspaper quoted some parents as follows: (NavBharat, July 1)

  • Even children of government teachers don’t study in government schools and there is need to improve conditions of schools and standard of teaching.
  • The announcement to close some and open some schools has created confusion. Meanwhile, since the academic year is starting, private schools are the only option.

Through arbitrary teachers’ transfers?

Obviously, and also as per rules, before decisions on transfers on grounds of over-staffing are made, note should be taken of performance, exam results, attendance regularity, etc. of all teachers. However, in the present “rationalization” exercise, the teacher with the shortest duration of service has been considered excess. At the same time, according to the Department’s policy, the teacher with longest duration of service is to be considered for transfer on account of over-staffing. Officials are unable to explain this anomaly and say they are only following the CM’s instruction (Nav Bharat, May 17, 1999)!

It is also said that enrollment has been surveyed very cursorily and even rules in respect of NCC, NSS, sports and disabled teachers have been ignored. A councilor, who is also the secretary of the education sub-committee, says a lot has been done mindlessly with no regard to norms and “so issues are bound to arise” (Dainik Bhaskar, July 20, 1999).

Given all this, it is hardly surprising that the transfers do not seem to be resulting in optimal deployment of staff. In fact, while the origin of the merger scheme was the anomaly that there are teachers and no students, in some cases its implementation seems to be resulting in the opposite anomaly. In a primary school in Juni Indore there was only one teacher, who has now been transferred. In the new academic year there are students but no teacher. Likewise, in the school in Kulkarni ka Bhatta there used to be 200 students and 5 teachers. Three teachers were declared excess and transferred. Now the school has a principal, one teacher, 11 rooms and 235 students (Dainik Bhaskar, July 20, 1999).

Having been implemented in such an arbitrary manner, all that transfers seem to be achieving is chaos amongst the teaching community. Teachers transferred to rural areas have yet to report for work at new posts. The CM has placed their joining as a pre-condition to examining their grievances. But teachers fear that once they join, no one will listen to them. As a result, many teachers are attending neither their old nor their new school and are fully occupied in getting their transfer orders cancelled (Swadesh, July 20, 1999). So much for rationalizing staffing!

Through poorly attended new schools?

On 1July 1999, 103 new schools were opened in Indore in the community halls constructed under the ODA project. That is to say the District administration wrote in chalk on their doors “Government Primary School: Admissions Open” and posted 3 teachers in each of them.

It is noteworthy that the government is committed to handing over these halls to community-based organizations for activities like balwadis, adult literacy, non-formal education, thrift and credit, health outreach, meetings, etc. If it does not wish to facilitate these activities beyond the ODA project (having already won international acclaim for its concern for the poor), the least the government can do is to leave the community halls alone so that people themselves can do something for these much needed activities.

Also, while the District Planning Committees have been given the right to set up new schools, they are obliged to set up only full-fledged schools. In this context, it may be mentioned that a letter to the Union Education Secretary inquiring about guidelines for school buildings returned the following response (dated 12/8/99): “While launching the scheme of Operation Blackboard in 1997-98 this Ministry has suggested ... the following minimum level of infrastructural facilities… provision of at least two reasonable large rooms that are usable in all weather with deep verandah along with separate toilet facilities for boys and girls...” . ODA community halls are unlikely to meet these minimum standards, especially since, in the absence of maintenance, many have become run-down (Dainik Bhaskar, 22 July) and some have been taken over by anti-social elements (Indore Samachar, 12 July) (Box-2).

Box-2: ODA Community Hall – Suitable for schools?

The community halls were meant to house various community development activities under the ODA project. In places these are continuing after the project got over. In Maharana Pratap Nagar, for instance, balwadi, vocational trainining for women and adult literacy classes are held in different shifts in the community hall. In Machi Bazaar the community hall is used for teaching urdu to children daily from 2 to 4 PM. Elsewhere, duly registered Youth Clubs and Mahila Mandals use the community halls for their activities. Now a primary school has been added to the functions of these community halls.

In most places, community halls are used for weddings and local functions and by young men to hang out. Residents are piqued by these having been taken over for schools. And teachers (ladies) are also not too happy to teach with young men staring through the windows or playing cricket outside. There are also instances of teachers not being able to start teaching on account of community halls having been taken over by vested interests. In many places they are locked from outside. In one case, local furniture shops have stacked their goods in the verandah. In another the IMC has located its dustbin at the entrance.

Other community halls are not amenable to functioning as schools on account of their run-down condition. Roofs leak and there is seepage in the walls. Window panes are broken, as is the wire mesh in the compound fencing. At times the building abuts a stinking nala. At times it is surrounded by garbage and the overflow from the choked underground drainage. At times it is home to stray dogs. At times there are safety hazards, such as when IMC’s boring connection passes through the buildings and the wires just lie exposed on the floor or when electrical junction boxes have long lost their covers.

There is also the matter of insufficient resources since the District Planning Committees are not permitted to use state funds. Lacking even bare necessities like furniture, blackboards, chalk, registers, etc, these schools are already being referred to as “gumti schools” (Box-3). The collector has made a laudable effort for mobilizing resources from private trusts, Red Cross society, etc (media reports, July 6 and July 22). But the fruits of these efforts certainly do not seem to have benefited the current academic session. Also what is not clear is why the same effort could not have been directed to improve existing schools or whether it will be sustainable year after year.

The District Planning Committee may set up new schools where these are needed. But a survey of the 103 new schools reveals that 14 have not started, in 6 there are no students and in 15 there are less than 20 students. Three months after the session started, officials were still trying to enroll students! The confusion about how these new schools will help “rationalization” is confounded by cases (like Malviya Nagar, CP Shekhar Nagar, Kallali Mohalla, etc) where new “community hall schools” are being set up even as proximous existing schools are being closed! Or by cases like Kulkarni Ka Bhatta which has a new school with 3 teachers in the run-down community hall (used for playing cards) right next to a government school with a brand new 11-room building and 235 students – from which 3 of the 5 teachers have been transferred!

Meanwhile, it must be recalled that the whole exercise of starting new schools was premised on the assumption that the current teacher-student ratio of 1:25 is sub-optimal and needs to be improved to 1:45. With three teachers posted to each new school, this means that there should be 135 students to reach the desirable teacher-student ratio or, at least 75 students to match the present sub-optimal ratio. It is extremely unlikely that these 103 “gumti” schools will be able to, firstly, attract and, secondly, accommodate 135 (or even 75) students! So much for rationalizing staffing by opening new schools!

Box-3: ODA Community hall schools – Schools without bare necessities?
In Sarvaharanagar, according to the lady chowkidar at the Community Hall, the teacher does come here but has no place to sit (nor any students to teach). In Mahavarnagar, the Community Hall School has some students. A balwadi also runs in the building in the mornings. The balwadi has a table, 2 broken chairs and 2 frayed mats. The school has no facilities beyond these. The teachers, who were transferred from a middle school, had to themselves purchase even the register to mark their attendance!

Through arbitrary mergers?

On July 1, when the new academic session was to start, 12 middle and 17 primary schools were closed for merger as part of the rationalization exercise. These were merged with 27 others. (23 schools were each merged with another single school; in one case 3 schools were merged into one other; in one case two schools were merged into one other; and in one case one school was merged into two others). In all, therefore, the merger affected 56 primary and middle schools (Box-4).

At the meeting of the District Planning Committee on 29 May 1999 only the proposals in respect of opening new schools and transferring teachers found to be “excess” in existing schools were approved as part of rationalization measures. Most newspapers mentioned only these decisions in their reports of the said meeting. Newspapers did report the collector’s reservation as to whether it was justifiable to let schools with very poor enrollment continue functioning. However, it appears that this matter was not explicitly discussed at the meeting. The members of the Zila Sarkar did not deliberate upon, for instance, which specific schools should be merged or what should be the general criteria for identifying schools for closure and merger. Nevertheless, two days after the meeting at least one newspaper subsequently quoted the collector as follows: “17 primary schools with poor enrollment will be merged with 17 other primary schools and 12 middle schools with poor enrollment will be merged with 8 other middle schools” (Nai Duniya, 31 May 1999, p.4).

In spite of the collector’s statement and although the very premise of mergers is poor enrollment, schools being closed are not always the ones with poor enrollment! As mentioned previously, the District Collector’s report mentions 177 schools in Indore which have less than 45 students and the Education Minister had informed the state assembly of 47 primary and middle schools with less than 50 students. However, only 15 of the 29 schools closed and 30 of the 56 schools affected by the merger had less than 50 students! Likewise, a newspaper report (Nai Duniya, May 31) had a box item on the Collector’s remarks on poor enrollment in middle schools, which he substantiated with 17 examples. But only one of these is included in the 12 middle schools that were closed and merged! On the other hand, at least 4 schools with more than 100 students have been closed. This includes the primary school in Hukumchand Colony (item 15 in Box-4) which has 308 students and which has been merged into a school that even the teachers could not locate! This also includes (notwithstanding the education department’s proposal for expanding pre-primary facilities) one of the three pre-primary schools currently run by the government in Indore – the Balmandir PS no.1 on MG Road (item 17 in Box-4) – which has 280 students. This also includes school no.88 in Haat Maidan (item 1 in Box-4) with 186 students which is functioning out of the premises of the privately run Agrasen school to which land was allotted by then Chief Minister PC Sethi on the express condition that a government school would also be allowed to operate from the premises

Apart from the obvious absurdity of closing well-attended schools there is also the question of how a large school can be satisfactorily “merged” into another school. In most cases, the classroom size is such that it may be physically impossible to subsume even a small school (or, for that matter, accommodate the 1:45 teacher student ratio that the administration seems to be striving to achieve). A case in point is the school with 36 students in Malviya Nagar (item 7 in Box-4) that was closed to be merged into a school with 257 students. The latter school, however, operates out of a dilapidated two-room building and could not admit more students! A more glaring anomaly of this utterly irrational “rationalization” is that at least 11 of the 29 schools closed have been “merged” with smaller schools, often in worse buildings! The Marathi PS no.104 in Shivaji Nagar (item 2 in Box-4) with 70 students, for instance, has been merged with a school that has 17 students and one room. The Marathi PS no.20 in Moti Tabela (item 6 in Box-4) with 86 students has been merged with a school that has only 4 students.

Nor are the schools being closed necessarily the ones in dilapidated buildings. For the 323 government schools in Indore, there are 150 buildings, 51 of which are dilapidated and have, in fact, been declared dangerous. There are possibly others that are also in poor condition. However, only 3 of the schools that have been closed were operating out of dilapidating buildings – Sindhi PS no.26 in Badwali Chowk, PS in Malviya Nagar and PS no.43 in Yashwant Ganj (items 3, 7 and 13 in Box-4). And all of these have been merged with schools that are also operating out of dilapidating buildings! Moreover, a number of schools operating out of average or good buildings have been merged with smaller schools operating out of buildings in poor condition. For instance, Sindhi PS no.71 in Sindhi Colony (item 4 in Box-4) which has 115 students has been merged with a school with 31 students and a dilapidating building. MS no.34 on RNT Marg (item 8 in Box-4 – middle schools) which has 45 students has been merged with a school with 17 students and a dilapidated building. MS no.14 in Badarawla (item 12 in Box-4 – middle schools) which has 82 students has been merged with a school that has 30 students and a run-down building. On the other hand, the Shantinagar PS in Musakhedi has been functioning under a tree since its inception, but is not in the list of schools to be merged (Nav Bharat, July 1, 1999).

Nor are the schools being closed necessarily the ones in encroached premises. A newspaper report gave examples of 25 schools with encroachments (Nav Bharat, April 3, 1996). But only two of these have been closed for merger (items-4 and 8 in Box-4 – middle schools). On the other hand two of these have been expanded (items 12 and 13 in Box-4).

The administration also seems to have disregarded gender concerns in primary education. There are two cases where a primary school has been merged into a primary school for girls! One of these is the PS no.11 on Devi Ahilya Marg (item-10 in Box-4). The other is the PS in Hukumchand Colony (item-15 in Box-4) that, as already mentioned has 308 students and, moreover, the girls’ school into which it has been merged could not be located. Also noteworthy is the fact that 3 middle schools for girls – with 65, 55 and 32 students – in the same area have been closed (MS no. 1, 7 and 14 (items 5, 6 and 7 in Box-4 – middle schools) on MG Road/Nagar Nigam Road). So much for commitment towards educating the girl child!

The administration also seems oblivious to the city’s heritage. At least one of the schools that has been closed down – MS no.16 on MG Road (item 1 in Box-4 – middle schools) – operates out of a 100-year-old building complex constructed by the Holkars that is home also to 16 other schools!

Box-4: Primary and middle schools merged as part of rationalization measures

School closed and merged (Students) / School into which merged (Students)

Primary schools

  1. PS no.88, Haat Maidan Chawni (186) / PS no.89, Haat Maidan Chawni (14)
  2. Marathi PS no.104, Shivaji Nagar (70) / PS no.130, Shivaji Nagar (17)
  3. Sindhi PS no.26, Badwali Chowk (24) / PS no.24, Badwali Chowk (20)
  4. Sindhi PS no.71, Sindhi Colony (115) / Sindhi PS no.72, Sindhi Colony (31)
  5. Girls PS no.15, Bakshi Bagh (69) / Girls PS no.44, Bakshi Bagh (21)
  6. Marathi PS no.20, Moti Tabela (86) / Marathi PS no.19, Moti Tabela (4)
  7. Junior School, Malviya Nagar (36) / PS, Malviya Nagar (257)
  8. Marathi PS no.14, Bhoi Mohalla (6) / Marathi PS no.13, Bhoi Mohalla (51)
  9. PS no.4, Sikh Mohalla (30) / PS no.3, Sikh Mohalla (30)
  10. PS no.11, Devi Ahilya Marg (na) / Girls PS no.6, Devi Ahilya Mg (169)
  11. PS no.6, Nayapura (15) / PS no.10, Nayapura (8)
  12. Marathi PS no.23, Khajuri Bazar (30) / PS no.22, Khajuri Bazar (26)
  13. PS no.43, Yashwant Ganj (6) / PS no.42, Yashwant Ganj (15)
  14. Girls PS no.9, Khajuri Bazar (8) / Girls PS no.22, Itwaria (28)
  15. PS, Hukumchand Colony (308) / Girls PS, Rajnagar (na)
  16. Girls PS no.46, Nanda Nagar (1) / Girls Marathi PS no.36, Nanda Ngr (128)
  17. Bal Mandir PS no.1M, MG Road (280) / PS no.121, Nagar Nigam Road (186)

Middle schools

  1. MS no.16, MG Road (35) / MS no.1, MG Road (61)
  2. MS no.26, MG Road (50) / ditto
  3. MS no.29, Nagar Nigam Road (44) / MS no.24, MG Road (138)
  4. MS no.30, Nagar Nigam Road (21) / Girls MS no.6 (78)
  5. Girls MS no.14, MG Road 55 / ditto
  6. Girls MS no.1, Nagar Nigam Road (65) / ditto
  7. Girls MS no.7, MG road (32) / Girls MS no.12, Nagar Nigam Rd (82)
  8. MS no.34, R N T Marg (45) / MS no.2, R N T Marg (17)
  9. Marathi MS no.26, M.G.Road (na) / Marathi MS no.16 (na)
  10. MS no.38, Bagle Saheb ka bada (21) / MS no.37, Nayapura (41)
  11. MS no.1, Tilak Path (32) / MS no.15, Rambagh (33)
  12. MS no.14, Badarawla (82) / MS no.28, Badarawla (30)

(Nav Bharat, July 1, 1999 and primary surveys)

Sadly, the administration also seems to be completely indifferent to performance of schools. An almost callous disregard of the basic values of encouraging good performance by our children and appreciating the efforts of voluntary organizations is seen in the case of the closure of the Girls Middle School No.1 on Nagar Nigam Road (item 6 in Box-4 – middle schools) which has 65 students. This school has a band that leads other schools on 26 January and 15 August and, last year, also participated in the Republic day celebrations at Delhi. And the Lion’s Club has been actively supporting it for several years (Box-5).

Surely such arbitrary mergers – which disregard all possible rational criteria like enrollment size, building condition, gender status, school performance, etc – could not be helping “rationalization” of any kind!

Box-5: How to encourage children and appreciates voluntary organizations

The Girls Middle School No.1is considered one of the best schools in the state on account of its band. For several years its band has led all other schools in the 26 January and 15 August parades. In 1998 the Band also participated in the Republic Day Parade in Delhi. The girls have won several prizes, which are proudly displayed in the school.

Moreover, for the last 10 years, the school has been adopted by the Lions Club, which regularly contributes towards fees, books, sports equipment, etc. and also arranges health and educational camps for the students as well as training in sewing, knitting, dance, etc. The club has also contributed towards furniture, drinking water and other facilities.

The school, located on IMC land, was established around 1955. Now it is to be merged with school no.12. The teachers have requested that, instead, it be made a main school into which others can be merged.

(Nai Duniya, July 17, 1999)

Just how rational is this “rationalization”

From the foregoing pages, two things are apparent:

  • Firstly, given the national goal of education for all and the poor overall enrollment in government schools in Indore, the Zila Sarkar’s decision to rationalize staffing in existing government schools by reducing teachers rather than by increasing students is itself irrational.
  • Secondly, the measures that have been introduced in the name of rationalization do not seem to have any rational basis. This is true for transfer of teachers, for opening of new schools and for merger of existing ones.

The District Planning Committee, in exercising its powers in respect of transfers of teachers on grounds of over-staffing, should have taken note of enrollment and criteria such as performance, exam results, etc. However, in the current “rationalization” exercise teachers have been identified as being “excess” . - on the basis enrollment surveys that have been very cursorily done

  • simply on the basis of shortest service (although policy suggests longest)
  • disregarding even rules in respect of NCC, NSS, sports and disabled teachers As a result:
  • on one hand, there are several (new) cases of over-staffing or under-staffing
  • on the other hand, there is discontent among teachers and many are attending neither old nor new school, being fully occupied in getting their transfer orders cancelled

The District Planning Committee, in exercising its powers in respect of setting up new schools should have abided by the directive that these are in places where they are needed. But the 103 new schools opened in Indore are supply-driven (based on availability of community halls) rather than demand-driven, resulting in absurd situations like:

  • closing an existing school and opening a new one in a community hall in the same area
  • creating new poorly-attended schools to solve the problem of existing such schools!

Besides this, the “no-cost” new schools are being opened in community halls, which are:

  • meant for other community activities
  • often short of minimum space standards norms or suitable teaching environment
  • lacking in bare necessities like furniture, boards, chalk, registers, etc

The District Planning Committee, in exercising its powers in respect of closure/merger of schools should have used criteria like poor enrolment, poor building, etc, and ensured that special concerns (like girls’ education, heritage interests, cases of good performance, etc) are duly considered. “Rationalization” in Indore, however, has entailed closure/merger of:

  • well attended schools into schools that are poorly attended or not even locatable
  • schools with premises in good condition into ones in dilapidated/encroached premises
  • schools for boys into schools for girls
  • schools functioning for long in historic premises
  • schools that are well-reputed, well-attended and well-supported/equipped

Obviously such irrational measures can do nothing “rationalization” of education!

“Rationalization”: Real objective#1?

Since it is obvious that “rationalization” measures being trumpeted by Indore’s District Planning Committee are themselves irrational, the question that logically follows what, then, are they really going to achieve?

One answer to this question lies in the logical extrapolation of the trends that have been started as a result of these measures. Already, the confusion created by this decision has encouraged parents to opt for private schools in the current academic year (Nav Bharat, July 1). Given the wider context of rather lax rules and procedures for recognition of private schools (Box-6), it is reasonable to expect that closure of government schools, will result in existing private schools flourishing and new private schools coming up.

Thus the current process of “rationalization” may serve the interests of private parties (and even government teachers) directly and indirectly involved in managing private schools. But it is going to be to the tremendous disadvantage of the already disadvantaged sections of society who cannot afford private schools. It is also against the Indian state’s constitutional commitment to play a direct role in education

Box-6: Recognition of Private schools

Earlier private schools were recognized from class-1 onwards after they satisfied prescribed criteria. Now the administration has done away with the need for recognition up to class 4 and recognition for Class 5 onwards is provided against payment of a fixed amount as a deposit with the department. For Rs.10000 for primary, 15000 for middle and 25000 for high school a society registered for purposes of providing education can now get permission to run a school after doing the necessary paper work. Obviously, this relaxation in procedure has adversely affected quality of education. At the same time, the state’s share in education has declined (Nav Bharat, May 17). Further, in response to an assembly question, the state minister admitted that in several cases recognition had been granted by the Joint Director of Public Education in Indore in an irregular manner (Dainik Bhaskar, June 2)

“Rationalization”: Real objective#2?

Private sector growth in education can hardly be the driving force behind the enthusiasm with which the Indore Zila Sarkar is pursuing its “rationalization” process. What, then, is the more substantive hidden agenda behind this process? The answer lies in seemingly unrelated developments, notably the approval of IMC’s Cosmo Circle (pending for three years) that was forthcoming once schools that were coming in the way were closed! (Box-7)

Box-7: Cosmo Circle

Cosmo Circle is IMC’s ambitious proposal for a 21st century commercial-cum-administrative complex that “will put Indore on the list of the most advanced cities of India”. Spread over an area of 3.11 Ha around the present location of IMC offices, the proposal consists of a 10-storied structure for offices placed in the middle of a vast shopping plaza. The office building is accessed by a fly-over through a landscaped porch and has an atrium in the middle with provision for an art gallery. The shopping plaza blends the needs of today (roadside shopping and hawkers) with those of tomorrow (showrooms and underground air-conditioned shopping arcades). The complex is meant to be a visual delight for citizens and will offer users a view of Krishnapura Lake. The scheme envisages development of 27400 square meters (including 21400 built up area) for administrative offices and 33000 square meters (including 20150 built up area) for shops and showrooms. The estimated cost of the scheme is Rs.76 crores (including 18 crores for land, 13 crores for land development and 45 crore for construction). The total anticipated revenue from sale of commercial and office space is 106 crores (including 60 crores from 625 shops @ 48000 per sqm, 24 crores from 75 showrooms @ 32500 per sqm, 1 crore from 165 hawkers’ shops @ 34500 per sq.m and 21 crores from 15 offices @ 19000 per sqm). Besides this 20.54 crores worth of office space and parking returning 9 lakhs per year is reserved for IMC. The scheme was prepared by IMC in 1996 and HUDCO approved a loan for it in 1998. Earlier this year the Mayor and councilors had discussed the matter with the Chief Minister who had assured them of expeditious state government approvals (Chautha Sansar, May 14). On July 27 newspapers reported the MP Urban Administration and Development Department’s decision to accord the scheme administrative approval. On September 18 they reported IMC’s plans to shift to Palika Plaza so that work on Cosmo Circle could commence. On October 14 newspapers reported state government’s administrative approval for the Cosmo Circle scheme.

Nine of the 29 schools that have been closed fall in the Cosmo Circle project area (Box-8). These include the Balmandir (with an enrollment of 280) and 8 of the 12 middle schools that have been closed (including 3 girls schools and 3 schools with more than 50 students).

It is noteworthy that no new middle schools are proposed for Indore. Only 12 middle schools are covered in the merger measures. Thus, as far as middle schools are concerned, the rationalization measures are limited to closing a disproportionately large number of schools (including girls’ schools) in a small area of the city, which happens to be where Cosmo Circle is proposed! This could hardly be a coincidence.

It is also noteworthy that one of only three pre-primary school facilities of the government has also been closed. This is even as the Education Department’s proposal of introducing pre-primary facilities in government schools in a bid to improve enrollment in them was also approved at the same meeting as the proposal of rationalization. The pre-primary school closed was well equipped and well attended, but happened to fall in the area needed for Cosmo Circle! This could hardly be a coincidence.

Besides these 9, there are others among the 29 that have been merged that suggest that the exercise of closing schools has less to do with rationalizing education and more to do with serving vested interests. For instance, Marathi PS no.20, Moti Tabela, which has 86 students, has been merged into one that has only 4, very likely because there is a scheme for a commercial complex on the premises.

Besides the 29 schools closed for merger now, other schools have been closed for other projects. For instance PS no.40 and PS no.78 in CP Shekhar Nagar have been closed and fall in the area for IDA’s riverfront development scheme no.142. The middle and primary schools in Niranjanpur fall in IDA’s scheme no.114. Primary schools nos.21, 63 and 123 in MOG lines were closed to make way for MPSHB residential flats.

It is also noteworthy that for 323 primary and middle schools there were only 150 school buildings – 51 of them in a dilapidated condition. Now 29 more school buildings – nearly all of them in fairly good condition – have been lost from this kitty in the name of rationalization. They just happened to be on land needed for other, more lucrative, purposes! Moreover the 103 new schools have been set up in community halls which are inadequate to house school functions. But they are on land not needed for more lucrative purposes!

Any doubts that all this might be coincidental are removed by the collector’s remarks that “after the merger of some schools land will become available and possibilities of generating resources for education will emerge” and that they “will be free from puritanical objections against commercial development in schools”. (Chautha Sansar, June 2, see Box-9).

Box-8: Schools closed on account of Cosmo Circle (rather than rational “rationalization”)

School closed and merged (Students) / School into which merged (Students)

  1. Bal Mandir PS no.1M, MG Road (280) / PS no.121, Nagar Nigam Road (186)
  2. Marathi MS no.26, M.G.Road (na) / Marathi MS no.16 (na)
  3. Girls MS no.1, Nagar Nigam Road (65) / ditto
  4. Girls MS no.7, MG road (32) / Girls MS no.12, Nagar Nigam Rd (82)
  5. Girls MS no.14, MG Road (55) / Girls MS no.6 (78)
  6. MS no.26, MG Road (50) / ditto
  7. MS no.29, Nagar Nigam Road (44) / MS no.24, MG Road (138)
  8. MS no.30, Nagar Nigam Road (21) / ditto
  9. MS no.16, MG Road (35) / MS no.1, MG Road (61)

Commercial development in schools

A proposal for commercial development in school premises for generating resources for school education was approved in the meeting of Indore Zila Sarkar’s District Planning Committee on May 29, 1999.

The proposal was mooted by the district collector, Shri Manoj Srivastava, who claimed there was a need for “radical thinking” in respect of school properties, especially so in view of the rampant illegal commercial encroachments.

Acknowledging the existence of a contrary view, the collector came down heavily on un-named persons who are averse to the very idea of commercial development in schools, saying their puritanical attitudes should not be permitted to come in the way of exploiting the commercial potential of school properties.

A newspaper report quoted the collector extensively on the thinking behind this rather unusual idea which most administrators, planners, educationists and parents would balk at (Box-9).

Box-9: The “thinking” behind the collector’s proposal

There is need for some radical thinking on the matter of school properties.

Some people abhor the very idea of the sanctity of the temple of Saraswati being violated by shops. But these very people, who find commercial prospects so disturbing, tuck their tails between their legs when the very same sanctity is violated by encroachers. They do nothing against unauthorized encroachments.

It is precisely on account of such attitudes that so much of the Education Department’s land in Indore has been lost to encroachments. And on much of this even pattas have had to be granted by the state under the patta Act.

If the education department wishes to exploit the commercial potential of its assets for resource generation for modernisation, why should puritanical elements be allowed to come in its way? Has not similar landuse readjustment in New Delhi led to generation of resources in public interest?

In Indore 10 acres of land in Malharashram school have been lost to illegal encroachment. Must we wait for the remaining 28 acres to be similarly lost before we change our old-fashioned thinking?

Why should there be any objection to commercial development of a few square feet of viable roadside land so the rest can be protected from encroachments by constructing a boundary wall?

At a time when options of public allocations and grants for education are becoming exceedingly constrained, we have to explore alternative avenues for generating resources for school education.

After the merger of some schools land will become available and possibilities of generating resources for education will emerge.

Otherwise, people will continue to encroach on land meant for educational uses and the administration will continue to grant them pattas under the Patta Act. In Balda area alone 294 pattas have been granted on the Education Department’s land.

At least the primary and middle schools that will be closed as a result of our merger proposals will be free from the debate on the sanctity of the school premises versus the need for the rational use of their land!

Chautha Sansar, June 2

In pursuit of “needed” resources?

The Collector claims that commercial development of school properties is necessary for generating resources for education. Inherent to this premise are two assumptions. Firstly, there are indeed no other (less “radical”) avenues for garnering resource for necessary improvements in education. Secondly, mechanisms of commercial development ensure that profits are indeed ploughed back into school education. In Indore, both these assumptions merit closer scrutiny.

Regarding the assumption of non-existent alternatives, it is noteworthy that sources claim that ever since the Panchayati Raj system has come in, allocations for government schools are not being fully utilized. For schools in Indore Rs.70,000 from the state and nearly 5.5 lakhs from the ministers’ PR fund were made available. It is claimed that these funds were disbursed to various schools, but have not been used. Some schools have spent the money only on paper. Others such as the girls PS in Sirpur have returned the funds allotted (Nav Bharat, July 1). Surely the administration must utilize available funds before exploring new sources. What is the guarantee that proceeds from commercial development, even if made over to schools, will not meet the same fate of non-utilization as current funds?

Regarding the assumption of benefits for schools, it needs to be mentioned that in the recent past there have already been cases of commercial development of school properties. 1415 and 756 sqm of school land were “developed” (through construction of shops) by, respectively, IMC and IDA on grounds of raising resources for schools. They have earned, respectively, 48 and 68 lakhs of net profit. Add interest and you get about 2 crores. More recently IDA has proposed commercial development (in the guise of “environmental improvement”) in 4 more schools (Dainik Bhaskar, February 24), including Malharashram which was referred to by the collector (see Box-9). These earlier interventions and proposals were not discussed at the meeting that approved the collector’s commercialization proposal, which is not surprising, considering that none of the profits from them were ploughed back into schools! It is claimed that 1.5 lakh (out of the profit of 2 crores) has been kept aside for education (Dainik Bhaskar, June 2). Education Department’s officers hesitate to speak about commercialization proposals. On much probing, an official admitted that this has been happening in the past but the schools have not gained anything from this (Nav Bharat, July 1). There is hardly anything in the track record of the current regime to suggest that things will be different this time around.

“Legal” commerce to pre-empt “illegal” commerce?

The central premise of the Collector’s proposal for commercial development of school premises seems to be that they are anyway being illegally encroached upon. The Local Administration Minister, in answer to a question raised in the Assembly in May 1998, said that in 20 school premises in Indore private parties have built unauthorized structures and that the Collector was taking necessary action (Dainik Bhaskar, June 2, 1999). The action that the collector seems to have taken is to moot a proposal for “commercial encroachment” by the government itself! Does Indore Zila Sarkar really believe that the solution to illegal encroachments is to pre-empt them through legal commercial development?

The Collector claims that the puritanical people who are averse to commercial development in school premises do nothing about unauthorized encroachments (see Box-9). Surely, the collector has not forgotten that police powers of the state to take action against illegal encroachments are vested in him and not in his “puritanical” dissenters.

The collector also mentions that once unauthorized encroachments come up in schools the state is forced to grant them tenure rights under the state’s Patta Act (see Box-9). Surely he is not unaware that the Act applies only to residential encroachments and, even in respect of these, has provisions for granting temporary patta pending relocation (for which HUDCO is willing to fund the state slum clearance board). Surely he has not forgotten that he himself has effected several evictions earlier this year, notwithstanding the Act. Surely he can, if he desires, effect non-residential evictions since they are not protected by any law.

There are also cases of school lands having been or proposed to be allotted to colonizers and even to the state Housing Board for developing residential complexes. Surely the collector is not unaware of the master plan provisions for residential and commercial landuse. Surely he knows that land earmarked for facilities like schools is disposed off at low rates precisely because it is meant for facilities, not profitable uses. While he mentions instances of “similar” property development in Delhi, the fact is that “such initiatives” in Delhi, etc, have been on land meant for, say, bus depots, not schools. Surely the Collector, who seems to have decided to single-handedly manage the city’s landuse planning, understands that commercial development is not just about constructing shops. It also requires planning for services like water and electricity and for traffic and parking, without which new commercial development stresses existing infrastructure.

Just how sensible is “radical” commercialization?

The Collector claims that commercial development of school properties is needed for generating resources for education. But the facts are that in Indore:

  • Existing allocations for school education are not being fully utilized; and
  • Past experiences with commercial development of school properties (which the Zila Sarkar did not bother to discuss while approving this new identical proposal) have not benefited schools in any way
  • Strictly speaking at least 2 crores should be available for schools from these earlier exercises. This is way in excess of what the collector has mobilised from private trusts etc, by claiming there are no resources and should be sufficient for setting up a corpus for starting needed improvements in school education in Indore.

The Collector claims that commercial development of school properties is needed because they are anyway being encroached upon unauthorisedly and the state is forced to grant patta to these encroachments under the patta Act. But the facts are:

  • If the state were to – instead of shirking its responsibility – exercise its police powers with the same enthusiasm as this “radical” proposal of the collector, it could put paid to unauthorised encroachments
  • The patta Act does not apply to commercial encroachments and has sufficient provisions for evicting even residential encroachments. If the collector were to show the same enthusiasm that he demonstrated in his illegal evictions earlier this year to carry out legal evictions from school premises, the Act would be implemented in spirit rather than become a ploy for shirking responsibility.

On the other hand, willful commercial development of school properties throws up:

  • serious implications for the city since commercial development is not just about constructing shops, but requires planning for services and for traffic and parking, without which new commercial development stresses existing infrastructure.
  • a very real danger of this absurd “radical” thought of the Collector becoming legitimized now that District Planning Committees have been given the right to open new schools without the benefit of state funds. One can readily imagine the Collector (and other collectors) pleading for commercialization of school premises and merger of schools in prime locations on grounds of inadequate resources for new “gumti” schools.

The fact that the Indore Zila Sarkar sees pro-active commercial development as the only way of stopping illegal encroachments is a very poor reflection not only on its policing capabilities but also on its warped perceptions of the importance of landuse planning. Going by the Collector’s convoluted logic, Indore Zila Sarkar should construct commercial complexes in all vacant lands in the city so that no jhuggis or gumtis can come up! This will not only divest them of their policing responsibilities, it will also enable them to wholeheartedly serve vested commercial interests. Hopefully for them, the disastrous consequences of haphazard commercial development will surface only in a subsequent political regime.

Obviously, such commercial development of school properties will not return any “radical” benefits for education!

In the name of decentralization

Indore Zila Sarkar’s District Planning Committee approved proposals of opening new schools through rationalization of staff and of commercialization of school properties on May 29. Regarding the latter, past experiences of commercialization, which had done nothing for schools, were ignored. And the former (along with the idea of merging schools) was hastily appreciated and extrapolated into state policy. By June 25, just 5 days before a new academic session started, the state’s school education department communicated its willingness to let District Planning Committees have a free hand in this regard. The Collector in Indore, as soon as he received a fax message to this effect, held a late night meeting and set the ball rolling. Schools in prime locations were closed and merged. “Excess” teachers were transferred to community hall schools where chalk markings on the doors announced these were new schools ready to take students. But approvals by fax, late nigh meetings taken by the collector, hastily transferred teachers and chalk markings on the doors of inadequate buildings, while they may make for popular election politics, do not necessarily make for schools. The beginning of the academic year brought complete chaos. Many well-attended and popular schools were found closed. New schools did not have even basic facilities, not to speak of students.

The Collector solicited and secured funds from private trusts and even from Red Cross for new schools. But the beginning of the academic year had come and gone. The local media reported the full range of problems that had been thrown up by the Indore Zila Sarkar’s hastily implemented interventions. Sections of the press also reported “success” of the collector’s effort to bring schools to slums – never mind that the schools had neither facilities nor students. And, meanwhile, the long pending Cosmo Circle was approved. Now that both the election and the beginning of an academic year are gone and the dust has settled on these frenzied interventions, it is time for a long and hard look at what is going on. The rationalization/merger/new school idea, like many others in the name of decentralization, is sound in principle but – as demonstrated by Indore – very prone to misuse. Here it has been irrationally implemented. So it has achieved nothing for rationalizing school education. It has got Indore a Cosmo Circle approval, which may or may not be what the city needs. And it has been extrapolated into state policy – without any clarity on resource needs, threby paving the way for the extrapolation also of the second proposal of commercialization of school premises! Taken to their logical conclusion these measures will lead to the closure of all existing government schools (on sites with even minimal commercial potential) and their substitution by “gumti” schools. So much for a welfare state committed to education for all! So much for decentralization!

What we need to ask is must our children have to study in pathetic buildings for we have money only for Krishnapura “lakes” and “21st century” Cosmo Circles? Or put up with shops in their schools for we have no money for them otherwise? Or study within squalid slums because we need all other sites for other things? And be grateful for being shortchanged by the administration on what the constitution is committed to give them? Should the state be allowed to inflict all this on our children – simply because children do not count in vote banks, children do not protest loudly and, therefore, children don’t matter in decentralization and its politics? Is this not a betrayal of children and should we not hang our heads in shame for allowing such a betrayal?