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|May 4, 1999||
Pokhran blast sends literacy project up in smoke
First it was the ''bomb'' that threatened to derail Lok jumbish, one of the most innovative and successful primary education programmes in the country. Now it is the Rajasthan government which is putting hurdles in its path.
The day India entered the elite nuclear club with the Pokhran II nuclear explosions, the fate of Lok jumbish in this most backward area of the desert state looked to be virtually sealed as the main international donor, the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) withdrew from the project in protest.
''I am not sure about its future. Personally, I am very anxious as the Rajasthan government is now not keen to continue it despite other international agencies coming to replace SIDA'', Anil Bordia, former union human resource secretary and honorary chairman of Lok jumbish said.
Bordia said money was not the problem. After SIDA's withdrawal, the Department For International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom agreed to help. ''But strangely, the education department of the state government is not in favour of continuing the programme'', he disclosed.
The Lok jumbish programme is financed jointly, with half the funds coming from international donor agencies and the rest from the union and state governments. ''We had already completed the first two phases successfully. Then came the Pokhran blast and the problem started. Luckily, despite SIDA's withdrawal DFID is ready to give Rs 200 crore of the Rs 400 crore needed for the third phase'', Bordia said.
But, added Bordia, the state government wants to discontinue Lok jumbish by extending the World Bank funded DPEP programme throughout the state. ''With my 30 years of experience in handling World Bank affairs in education, I can clearly see a World Bank conspiracy behind the whole thing as they are extending a loan while DFID's contribution is a grant. This is actually a debt trap'', Bordia asserted.
The Lok jumbish is being implemented with full involvement of the community in 13 districts of Rajasthan. Sushila Ojah, area co-ordinator of the programme in Bikaner said, ''the uniqueness of the programme is the involvement of the villagers. After the formation of the core team in the village, it is they who decide about the educational facilities and build it themselves with our money''.
Under the programme, residential camps are held to impart non-formal education. The volunteers get the villagers to involve themselves in the project thus bringing in accountability and transparency while removing bureaucratic red- tapism.
The volunteers are highly motivated. ''You have to see it to believe how these workers go around the villages even at scorching temperatures sometimes walking as much as seven kilometres in the desert to motivate the people and keep the schools going'', Murarilal Thanti, project officer of Lok jumbish at Pokhran said.
Another feature of the programme is the six-month residential camps held exclusively for girls. This is to combat female illiteracy which is alarmingly high in the state. The girls, drawn from interior villages are put under direct supervision of women teachers who spend the entire six months with them.
But with the funds crunch that started soon after the Pokhran blasts ''schools which have been sanctioned could not be started and salaries for the teachers have become irregular,'' C K Porwal, project officer of Jaisalmer said. If the project is shelved the work of the last eight years will go down the drain, he added. UNI
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