Srinagar: Last year the Mehbooba Mufti government announced free education to girl students in government-run schools in the state. That promise has not been fulfilled. Girl students are still paying several kinds of fees and establishment charges to government schools in Kashmir.
An order issued by the Commissioner Secretary of the Education Department, Shaleen Kabra, last year said that the fee charged to girl students in government run-schools is to be waived off. “In order to encourage enrolment of the girl students in the schools and to further incentivise their education, sanction is hereby accorded to waive off school fee charged from the girl students in the state-run educational institutions up to higher secondary level with immediate effect,” read the order.
When this reporter visited a few middle and high schools for girls in Srinagar, the students there said that the school authorities are still asking them to pay fees.
“If the government ordered to waive off our school fees, then why is it not happening? We are paying Rs 600 to Rs 800 as school fees even after the government order,” a group of students of Kothi Bagh girls’ higher secondary school told Kashmir Reader.
The same statements were made by several girl students of higher secondary schools in Srinagar. The girls called the government order a “gimmick” of politicians. “What kind of free education is being provided to girl students when they are still paying several hundred rupees as school fees,” the girls said.
They said that girl students are being charged not just the fees but money for ‘funds’ to pay salaries of non-teaching staff, like watchmen, peons, sweepers and other workers. “Why are girls being asked to pay several types of funds for non-academic purposes,” girl students of a higher secondary school said.
The principal of a girls’ higher secondary school in Srinagar on condition of anonymity told Kashmir Reader that the initiative to waive off fees for girls was good but so far the education department has failed to chalk out any mechanism for its implementation. He said that currently girl students are being charged money for registration, renewal of admission, contingency funds, sweeper funds, and examination fee.
“Whatever amount we charge to students, we deposit it in the bank from which we withdraw a certain amount to pay for the chowkidar, sweeper, and other contingency purposes. We don’t receive any amount for this purpose from the government. Even employees have to donate some amount to pay the salary of the workers,” the principal said.
Some other senior officials of girls’ schools in Srinagar, all wishing anonymity, told Kashmir Reader that their schools are still charging money from girl students for maintenance of the schools and also the examination fees that go to the Board of School Education (BOSE).
The school authorities said that the education department is not providing any funds for the maintenance of schools. “The government should have provided sufficient funds to all the schools prior to issuing the fee-waiver order,” government school officials said.
Director School Education Kashmir (DSEK), Kumar Rajeev Rajan, told Kashmir Reader that fees of girl students has been waived off from this academic session, but the students still have to pay examination and registration fees as prescribed by BOSE.
“BOSE is an autonomous body and we can’t stop them from whatever fee they’re charging to students. If the government has made a plan, they must be having strategies for its implementation,” Rajan said.
When asked how girls’ schools would manage their daily affairs when they have no funds available, Rajan said that the government has assured his department of providing enough funds from the next financial year that starts April 1. He, however, said that the order issued by the Commissioner Secretary of Education Department last year has not made clear whether students should be charged examination fees or not. “We have written to higher authorities for clarification,” he said.
The Commissioner Secretary Education, Shaleen Kabra, could not be reached on her phone.