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Caught between Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Gujarat govt, agariya children are "refused" midday meal

By Our Representative
With the schooling season having begun, activists of the Agariya Hit Rakshak Manch (AHRM), who are active among saltpan workers of the Little Rann of Kutch, have expressed strong apprehension that children or around 14,000 saltpan workers, who propose to shift to the Little Rann to produce salt in September, may turn into out-of-school kids. While the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), a Central scheme, runs makeshift schools for these children, the kids are not offered any normal facilities which primary school kids should get.
“The total SSA budget for a makeshift school for six months is a mere Rs 30,000, out of which Rs 18,000 goes into paying Bal Mitras, 10th and 12th class pass-outs enrolled to motivate dropped out children to return to schools”, says AHRM activist Ghanshaym Zula, who works with the agariyas bordering the Little Rann of Kutch off Patan district. He adds, “Bal Mitras are hardly capable of teaching. With pittance in their hands, they stay put in the Rann to somehow run the schools. You require regular teachers to teach the children.”
Worse, complain activists, the kids in the Little Rann are not provided with any midday meal, which is given in regular primary schools. “SSA says they have no provision for it, while the Gujarat government has remained simply indifferent towards the whole thing”, complaints activist Marutsinh Bariya, who works among saltpan workers off Surendranagar district, adding, “Things become worse as children remain in makeshift schools starting at 10 in the morning till 5 in the evening. Often, they are provided with chiki and biscuit, how can you survive on that?”
In fact, activists say, by not providing midday meal, the Gujarat government is simply shirking from its responsibility of implementing the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009, under which the government is obliged to provide every child primary school education up to the eighth standard. “Implemented late in Gujarat, in February 2012, indifference towards RTE is nowhere more visible than vis-à-vis the agariya children“, says activist Bharat Samera, who works among the agariyas bordering Malia region.
Interestingly, what is happening in the Rann is just opposite of an experiment which began several years ago – under which Rann Shalas as extensions of the regular schools would operate to take care of education of the kids who moved to the Little Rann. The experiment has come to a grinding halt. While lower primary children would get regular schooling in these Rann Shalas, village hostels began to operate for children of the upper primary level. This was somewhat successful, especially in the Rann area next to Surendranagar district. Though on paper, it is as good as dead ow. “The Rann Shalas have virtually stopped functioning, while the village hostels are in a poor shape“, regrets Samera.
As for the makeshift schools, SSA often begins them late. Though the agariya children arrive in the Rann in September, sometimes they do not start their operation till December. Which means that even the poor quality education, provided through Bal Mitras, is not offered to the kids in the Little Rann of Kutch for the time they remain in Kutch.
Meanwhile, senior activist Pankti Jog, of NGO Janpath, who has been working with saltpan workers, says, the entire agariya community faces neglect, whether it is education or health. “Womenfolk, including pregnant women, are refused any healthcare in the entire area. The Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), under which infants should be provided with all the basic healthcare facilities free of cost, including vaccines, does exist not for them. The children grow up as malnourished kids, and have little or no option to diversify into other occupations once they age.”

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