No limits to official apathy

Greater Kashmir

Since the inception of erstwhile Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and Rashtriya Madhiyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) scheme in J&K, the Government of India (GoI) is pumping large sums of money for infrastructural up gradation of the schools. However, the investment is literally going down the drain in absence of proper planning in J&K .

Most of the school buildings approved under erstwhile SSA and RMSA schemes in J&K await execution of construction work over the past many years and the department seems to be least bothered about it. Also, the work on hundreds of schools buildings sanctioned over the years has been left midway by the contractors and these buildings do not have any watch and ward from the department, leaving them abandoned.

Over the years, successive regimes in J&K have failed to come up with a plan for their utilisation despite spending crores of rupees on these projects.

The official data states that the school education department has failed to start construction work on around 1290 buildings sanctioned under different components under SSA and RMSA schemes during past many years. Also, work on 386 buildings has been left in mid-may. These include 240 school buildings sanctioned for different middle schools after their up gradation to high school level.

As per the official data, 555 school buildings were sanctioned as strengthening component for schools facing accommodation crunch for students. But out of this, work on only 264 buildings has been completed so far while as work on 278 buildings sanctioned in past years is yet to be started. “The work on 13 buildings is under progress,” reads the document.

Around 305 additional classrooms were sanctioned for different schools out of which work only 82 buildings has been completed so far, and 29 in under progress. However, the department has failed to start construction work on 194 buildings.

The MHRD also approved 254 rooms to establish science laboratories and 302 buildings to set up computer rooms out of which only 59 and 77 are completed. “Work on 172 science laboratory rooms and 198 computer rooms has not been started so far,” the figures reveal.

An official meanwhile said the construction of all these buildings was left midway either due to cost escalation or some kind of “nexus” between zonal authorities and the contractor. In past years various scams were unearthed which exposed the nexus between the contractors and officials at zonal level in the construction of buildings. Some cases were also referred to vigilance department for probe and money was recovered from erring officials of the department.

“The construction on these buildings was stopped due to the additional requirement of funds. Ironically the work was stopped for a few lakhs and ultimately these buildings were abandoned. And nobody knows about the funds which were sanctioned for schools on which work has not been started so far,” the official said.

Given the delay in completion of work on school buildings, the government has brazenly wasted resources and occupied the land in school premises leaving students without any space for their participation in extracurricular activities in schools.

“In most of the cases, the contractors left construction work midway citing cost escalation. But the reason behind the cost escalation is that the building is approved by MHRD with a specific project cost. But the department consumes more than a year in completing the procedures to start execution of work. By the time rates go up and contractor leaves the building midway,” said an official from planning section of the education department. He further said the department wastes years for identification of the land for construction of the school buildings. In some cases, the construction gets halted due to land disputes.

While the funds worth crores have gone down the drain in education department in the name of opening up new schools or providing additional accommodation to students under SSA and RMSA scheme, till date, no official inquiry or departmental inquiry has been ordered against the officials and contractors who allegedly misused these funds in the name of infrastructure expansion in the school department.

Few years ago the school education department constituted engineering wing in the department to execute construction works. This wing was constituted to avoid delay in completion of the projects and cost escalation. It has four divisions – two each in Jammu and Kashmir including Ladakh. Each division is headed by an executive engineer who is on deputation from R&B department. Division first includes the areas falling in central and north Kashmir district while as division second has jurisdiction over south Kashmir districts. Division three and four includes Jammu, Sambha, Kathua, Rajouri, Poonch and Doda.

“Given the present scenario it seems that the department has dumped these under construction buildings but if department puts in little efforts, most of these schools will be made functional and students will get proper accommodation in their respective schools,” an official said.

Just to put it down here, the Secretary School Education Department, Hirdesh Kumar did not respond to repeated calls.