The Chhota Udepur district administration has decided to request the District Panchayat for a grant to provide school bags to the 11,000 students who were enrolled to Class I in Gujarat in during the three-day Shala Praveshotsav, that ended on Saturday.
Following a decision of the state government to stop procurement of school bags to be distributed to children during the Praveshotsav, several new students entering Class I were handed out books in polypropylene bags as the schools were not able to find ‘donors’ for school bags.
On Saturday, about 20 students enrolling in class I of the primary school in Chisadiya village, wearing welcome caps made of chart paper, received their books in a ‘cloth bag’ (polypropylene).
In another primary school in Dhandhora, seven students enrolling in Class I were handed out school bags purchased by the teachers.
When The Indian Express visited the school on Saturday, Principal Babu Rathwa said, “We did not receive any school bags from the administration this time. But we are aware that the children are excited to receive their bags and books as it is a motivation to come to school… This village has three primary schools so the number of students is less– only seven. We have a total of 131 children from Classes I to VIII. So the teachers decided to buy seven school bags for the new children. They were happy to receive the bags.”
In many other schools, donors provided essential school items, including school bags, shoes, and so on.
In Gabhadia primary school belonging to the Singla cluster, District Superintendent of Police (DSP) Dharmendra Sharma welcomed 11 children to Class I and handed out school bags, along with books and snacks.
Principal Kailash Patel told the Indian Express, “We had donors, who provided us with the school bags. This year, the administration did not call us for collecting the bags and we had been told that we would have to look for donors as part of the new initiative. It is good in a way as donors do come forward but it can be uncertain at times. We got lucky else the children would have been disappointed.”
While the state government’s education department earlier made purchases of school bags, it has now discontinued the system. Instead, each district administration is expected to oversee that the donations from willing organisations are effectively distributed across the schools.
Vinod Rao, Secretary, Primary and Secondary Education, Gujarat, told the Indian Express, “The reason why the government decided to discontinue procurement of school bags from 2019 onwards, was to encourage public participation in the process of education. The response has been overwhelming…”
“We do provide school uniforms and books but the district education departments are expected to coordinate the distribution of the donations of other items across schools. Apart from that, there is also a special grant available (to the district panchayats) from which purchases can be made. This is a direction to all district education departments of the state,” he added.
District Primary Education Officer, Imran Soni, of Chhota Udepur said that 85 per cent of the schools that witnessed the Shala Praveshotsav received the school bags for the new students while those that were left out will soon be given the bags.
Soni said, “For two years in 2020 and 2021, the Shala Praveshotsav was not held due to Covid-19. This year, we were not intimated if the Praveshotsav will take place. The budget for purchase of school items is a matter of the District Panchayat (DP). So, when the DP budget was presented, we had not presented the proposal for the procurement of bags and other school items to be given as part of Shala Praveshotsav…”
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“The intimation for the event came only ten days in advance. When we realised that about 15 percent of the schools — especially those located remotely — did not have donors for essential items like school bags, we took up the matter with the District Development Officer and we have already begun the process of sending the proposal to the DP for grant of budget to purchase the items,” she added.
Soni added that in the course of a few weeks, the district administration will procure school bags and hand them out to the students who are yet to receive them, should no other donors come forward.
Chhota Udepur district had stroked a major controversy in 2017 when school bags distributed during the Praveshotsav had revealed images of former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav under the stickers of the BJP government in Gujarat. The bags had been recalled and the contractor issued notice.