THE STATE government is receiving a lot of flak from the education sector for its recent decision to provide midday meals only to students with Aadhaar cards even as it has given until the year-end for schools to complete the process.
Pointing out how the midday meal scheme has been a factor for enrolment in schools, especially in rural or tribal dominated areas, a government school teacher said, “This is inappropriate and not in line with the Right To Education (RTE) act. Moreover, there is no such clause by the Centre which runs the policy,” adding, “Putting such a condition is going to have an impact.”
Last month, the Directorate of School Education (Primary) issued orders to local education department offices of all districts. According to the order, schools have to submit updated data of Aadhaar card registration of their students at the end of every month until November 2022. The aim is to collate the data before December 2022 which is the deadline to complete Aadhaar registration. According to teachers, the other government schemes at schools are likely to follow the same diktat.
Teachers also pointed out that work does not end at registration of Aadhaar, “It has to be verified too,” said Mahendra Ganpule, from Maharashtra State Headmasters’ Association. He explained, “A child may have an Aadhaar card but it has to be verified on details such as name, birth-date, gender. If these details, on Aadhaar and in school enrolment do not match, the said Aadhaar registration is not considered valid. Now these are technical details, and there could be various reasons which may have led to a mistake. It is not right to decide if a child can be served a midday meal or not based on these technicalities, especially when it has been a driving factor for many parents to enrol their children to schools.”
According to state-wide data shared by Ganpule, out of 1,89,94,363 students with Aadhaar enrolment, only 89,29,525 have valid Aadhaar count. And out of total student enrolment count of 2,24,50,469 across the state, Aadhaar details of 34,56,106 students are yet not available.
Vijay Kombe, a Zilla Parishad School teacher from Wardha district who is also the secretary of Maharashtra State Primary Teachers’ Association, said, “These technical mistakes are rampant in rural areas. Most parents won’t even know how to spell a name in English. Many times, illiterate parents have to depend on the operator to fill in the correct information. Many students in tribal belts don’t have an Aadhaar card.”
Meanwhile, the directorate is firm on its stand. Director of Education (Primary) Dinkar Temkar, who looks after the midday meal scheme in Maharashtra, said, “There is no Aadhaar mandate for school admissions. But in order to avail the facilities, students will need to have valid Aadhaar registration. There have been instances in the past when schools have forged the data of student count. The verification process for valid Aadhaar registration is important to ensure that the given 12-digits is a correct Aadhaar card number and is not repeated in any other school.”