Following disclosures pointing towards discrepancies in purchase of books and science kits for government run schools under the 'Sarv Siksha Abhiyanan' and 'Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan' Punjab's education minister, Sikander Singh Maluka and some officers of the State education department have not only come under fire from the opposition party, but have earned the displeasure of the Chief Minister, Parkash Singh Badal.
With pressure from the opposition Congress being relentless, Mr Maluka, who is considered to be very close to the Chief Minister, has said that he was prepared for any third party investigation into the matter. President of the Punjab unit of the Congress, Partap Singh Bajwa has demanded that the minister should be sacked immediately and the matter be probed by any agency except the Punjab Vigilance Bureau.
The matter relates to purchase of books worth at least Rs 9.00 crore and science laboratory kits worth Rs 7.5 crore, during the previous financial year. Allegations relate to flouting of norms, violation of rules, placing orders through ineligible or favoured companies and individuals as well as procuring books that were not related to school education. One such book not only carries glorification of the naxalite movement and justification of the events leading to the violent secessionist during the 1980s but criticises the role played by Mr Badal and the 27 times president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, the late G.S. Tohra. One book, which was supposed to be helping middle level school children with Punjabi poetry, has some poems or phrases that were improper for tender minds.
Initially against the circular by the Director General for School Education, who suggested that the books be purchased from the catalogue with the State's languages department, the minister formed a committee headed by the Director of Public Instructions (elementary), which issued tenders through less circulated newspapers regarding purchase of books. However, the number of books, their names and the funds to be utilised was kept ambiguous.
Following a procedure, which raises quite a few questions, the committee allotted the contract to a private company "Friends' Enterprises", which was actually engaged in making RCC pipes in Sardulgarh town of Mansa district. The company used a "nomination letter" from the DPI-E to collect Rs 3,000 from primary and Rs 10,000 from each upper primary school. They were paid from the Sar Siksha Abhiyan funds. While supplying the books which should have carried the promised 15 percent discount tag, some were actually priced well above the market price. The book on Robinson Crusoe, which was available in the market for Rs 150, was provided at Rs 270. Similarly schools also paid Rs 270 for those books which were available in the market at prices between Rs 150 to Rs 200.
Similarly, adopting the same pattern, the same panel under DPI-E also issued tenders for purchase of science laboratory kits. At least 754 schools were identified, which placed orders of Rs one lakh each for the laboratory kits that were provided by five companies from Ambala city of Haryana. The payments for these kits came from the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan.
The Chief Minister is said to have expressed his annoyance with the scam hitting media headlines at a moment, when the Akali Dal in alliance with the BJP and other NDA partners, were seeking to corner the Congress on corruption charges in the run up to the next Lok Sabha polls. Mr Badal is believed to have summoned the minister for some "hard talk" on the matter.
CM orders probe
Taking cognisance of reports regarding alleged irregularities in the school education department, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal on Monday ordered an independent inquiry by a retired Judge of Punjab and Haryana High Court A.N. Jindal "to get into the bottom of the case."
A statement quoting a spokesperson of the Chief Minister's Office said that Mr. Badal has sought the probe into all alleged aspects particularly those related to the purchase of library books for primary and upper primary schools, science kits and supply of map masters.