The Odisha government’s reluctance to implement the Centrally-sponsored PM Schools for Rising India (PM SHRI) scheme has set the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) regime and the Bharatiya Janata Party-led (BJP) Union government on a collision course.
Launched on September 7, 2022, the scheme aims to establish over 14,500 schools across the country and 6,207 schools have been identified in the first phase. The BJD government is yet to respond to two letters from Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik over the past three months, urging him to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Department of School Education and Literacy under the Ministry for the implementation of the scheme in the State.
This is the second such instance as the BJD government has shown no inclination to implement Ayushman Bharat, a flagship Central scheme aimed at achieving universal health coverage, despite repeated letters and requests from Union Ministers.
Small scheme: BJD
According to BJD insiders, PM SHRI is a “small” scheme compared with the State government’s “massive” project that has so far spent ₹3,411 crore to transform 6,872 high schools under its much vaunted 5T (teamwork, technology, transparency, transformation, and time limit) initiative. The government is now eyeing similar interventions in colleges.
It has also set up 315 schools in 314 blocks of the State under the Odisha Adarsha Vidyalaya (OAV) initiative, which aims at providing qualitative and affordable education in English-medium. All OAVs are equipped with modern education technology and students are taught by highly skilled teachers. The OAVs have all the elements that the PM SHRI intended to implement, the BJD said.
“At a time the Naveen Patnaik government is being praised for its school transformation initiative, the Narendra Modi government is trying to gain mileage through the PM SHRIscheme. The NDA government came to power in 2014, but has taken nine years to focus on education,” a BJD spokesperson said.
Stumbling block, says BJP
The State BJP unit countered that the BJD government has become a stumbling block in the implementation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plans to bring modern education to the country. “The State government is least concerned about holistic development of the education sector. The main objective behind its every plan and programme is to win praise,” State BJP spokesperson Pruthiraj Harichandan said.
The Odisha government has also maintained that its own Biju Swastya Kalyan Yojana (BSKY) is better than Ayushman Bharat. “While Ayushman Bharat offers an annual health cover of ₹5 lakh per family, BSKY bears treatment costs up to ₹10 lakh for women. Patients are also not billed in government hospitals under BSKY,” said the BJD leader.
While ₹7,200 crore was the budgetary allocation for Ayushman Bharat in 2023, the Odisha government reimbursed ₹2,528.22 crore under BSKY in 2023 alone. The scheme has so far covered 99.09 lakh households (83%) in the State, the BJD leader said.
‘Unacceptable to State’
According to veteran journalist and political analyst Rabi Das, if the Odisha government signs the MoU for the implementation of PM SHRI, it will have to abide by certain conditions of the Centre, and this is “unacceptable to the State”. “School education has always remained a fiefdom of the State government,” he said.
The BJP has also raised questions over the execution of the Bhubaneswar Metro Project for which the State exchequer will be spending ₹6,500 crore. “The Naveen Patnaik government could have moved the Centre for part-financing of the metro rail project as many State governments have done in the past. Instead, the BJD government is bearing the entire cost, which is a splurge of public money,” the BJP spokesperson said.