Education, the worst casualty

Print edition : October 13, 2017

In the general upheaval of submergence and displacement, one of the least-talked about matters has been the splintered education of project-affected children. Simantini Dhuru, director of the Avehi Abacus Project and founder member of the All India Forum for Right to Education, went to three villages in Barwani district’s (Madhya Pradesh) submergence zone as an independent observer to see how the administration is handling the education of displaced children.

Her observations lend weight to the Narmada Bachao Andolan’s (NBA) assertion that rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) is not being carried out according to law. As many as 38 village schools and anganwadis have been forcefully shifted.

The local administration says they are in the submergence zone, but the villagers’ retort is that “if so why haven’t we been resettled?” Most people have opted to stay in their villages because many rehabilitation sites lack even basic facilities.

The Right to Education Act says that primary schools should be within a one-kilometre approachable radius of a village while secondary schools need to be within a 3-km approachable radius of a village. In complete contravention of the Act, the school in Chhota Barda village has been shifted some 8 km away.

The school in Chikhalda is 6 km away and accessible only via an isolated forest road with no culvert. The Karondiya school is across a nullah and has no access road at all.

Attendance in the primary schools has dropped, with parents unable to afford Rs.500 a month for a seat in a van or unwilling to let their small children walk three hours daily to and from school. Secondary school attendance is about 35 per cent of the norm, with most of the children studying in Classes 9 and 10. They do not want to lose a year by missing out on school attendance. Ironically, while children and their families made the effort to travel the 8 km to school, often there were no teachers because the government had deputed them to collect data on the rehabilitation status. Using teachers for this work is again a contravention of the Act.

Simantini Dhuru said that while the school buildings were new there were no basic facilities. Toilets are yet to be constructed in some places. Blackboards are frequently missing. The external surroundings, infested with snakes and scorpions, are still jungle-like.

The Right to Food Act is also being breached, with the meal provider for the midday meal scheme being unable to cope with the task of ferrying food over the extended distances.

Lyla Bavadam

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