There are just over 1,100 tribal residential schools in Maharashtra — half of them state-run while others aided by the state. More than 5 lakh tribal students are enrolled in these schools.
According to the high-level probe by the Salunkhe Committee, which submitted its report to the Maharashtra governor in October last year, 1,077 deaths have transpired over the last 15 years in these state-run tribal residential schools. “In 67 percent cases, there was no proper mention of the cause of death in the death certificates,” the report noted. Vague descriptions like “severe illness” and “sudden death” dominated the ‘cause of death’ column while malnutrition, lack of medical help, negligence were other reasons, casting serious aspersions on the healthcare, hygiene and sanitation facilities available in these schools across Maharashtra.
In August 2015, Tata Institute for Social Sciences (TISS) submitted a comprehensive report to the current ruling dispensation after examining 1,076 schools, in which it came up with some embarrassing findings regarding healthcare and sanitation facilities at the ashram schools.
The same report also submitted that merely 6 percent aided and 3.6 percent of the government tribal schools served breakfast according to the government approved menu. Further, while 33 percent of the schools had their gas facility and utensils in good condition, the kitchens themselves were unhygienic.
While the conditions in which these tribal students live are repugnant, the security of the students, or rather the lack of it, has remained an even more alarming concern. Apart from being beaten up and ill treated, cases of sexual exploitation are rampant, say activists.
Maharashtra is the only state that allocates budget for tribal development in proportion of its tribal population, which leaves no scope for shortfall, even though the state runs 555 ashram schools and aids 554 of them. For the year 2016-17, Rs 7,644 crores had been allotted for tribal development. However, the tribal ministry is often accused of malpractices and the ground reality of ashram schools makes one wonder where the money goes.
The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that the NGOs that run some of these schools either belong to a politician or someone close to a politician. So they are often subject to political interference.
Primary and secondary schools run in tribal areas are by-and-large a neglected topic in public discourse. Firstpost published a five-part series that explored some of the issues affecting these schools, and their students.
Updated Date: Jan 22, 2017 09:40 AM