Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Thursday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to provide free education to children who lost their parents due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The letter citing Rajiv Gandhi’s Navodaya Vidyalaya project asked the Prime Minister to make education free in all the 661 Navodaya Vidyalaya schools for students orphaned due to the pandemic.
It is notable here that Navodaya Vidyalayas offer free and quality education under CBSE to talented children from class 6th to class 12th. They are co-educational residential schools and education, uniforms, books, stationery, bus or rail fare, lodging, and boarding are provided to children up to class 9th free of cost. From class 9th, a nominal fee of Rs 600 per month is charged. However, girl children, children from SC/ST category, and children from families below the poverty line are exempt from this fee too.
What Sonia Gandhi seems to be suggesting here that children who have been orphaned due to Covid should be taken in and provided a free education in the Navodaya Vidyalayas. However, as most of the “suggestions” given by Congress, there is a practical issues associated by the suggestion which will make the implementation problematic.
As NVs are for children who are in class 6th, that is at least 11 years of age. The care, rehabilitation, and safety of orphaned children accessed and done by relevant local authorities as per their physical, emotional and social needs, age, and family structure. How far this suggestion of Navodaya Vidyalayas taking in children will be implementable and useful is a big question mark.
Also, Navodaya Vidyalayas are schools. All schools are currently closed due to the raging pandemic. It is not understood if the Congress President is asking for Navodaya Vidyalayas to open and house children while the pandemic rages in and vaccination for children under 18 is yet to be approved.
Moreover, several state governments have already announced special schemes for children orphaned by the pandemic.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced free education and an allowance of Rs 5000 per month and free ration to children who lost their parents to Covid-19. He also assured that the government will take care of those who lost their earning member amidst the pandemic.
Jammu and Kashmir
Jammu and Kashmir’s Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha announced special scholarship schemes for children who lost their parents. Other benefits have also been announced to support those who have lost their family members.
The Chhattisgarh government too under the ‘Chhattisgarh Mahtari Dular Yojna’ that it will bear the cost of education for the children whose parents fell victim to the Chinese virus.
Additionally, children studying in both government and private schools will be eligible for a stipend of Rs 500 per month studying in Classes 1 to 8 and Rs 1,000 per month studying in Classes 9 to 12.
The Delhi government also announced free education to such children assuring that the government will take care of their studies and upbringing.
Om Birla urges Kota institutions to provide free education
In a video conference with the Directors of School and Coaching Institutes of Kota, Speaker of Lok Sabha Om Birla had urged the institutes to provide free coaching to orphaned children appearing for medical and engineering entrace exams. The institutes agreed to not only waive off the fees but also showed the willingness to provide them with books and uniforms.
Governments of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Jharkhand too have extended support to orphaned children.
The Yogi Adityanath government had decided to extend all assistance, including financial, by the state government under its sponsorship scheme to children who have lost their parents due to the pandemic.
Manoj Rai, director of Department of Women and Child Development said, “The state government has decided to tweak rules of the scheme as it mandated to assist only two children of a family. Now, all affected children of a family will be provided financial assistance even if they are more than two.”
The Karnataka government announced their plans to rehabilitate children up to the age of 18 years orphaned by the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, the state will set up special pediatric COVID care centres in 30 districts of the state.
“The government is ready to rehabilitate children who were orphaned by the second wave of COVID-19. Children need not be afraid as we have decided to set up separate quarantine facilities as well as hostels for those up to 18 years,” informed Woman and Child Welfare Minister Shashikala Jolle.
The state of Gujarat has announced a monthly assistance of Rs 4000 to children orphaned by the pandemic till they turn 18-years-old.
The government of Jharkhand too has announced its commitment to rehabilitating children orphaned by COVID-19 along with providing financial assistance to the caretakers.
The Odisha government had announced that orphaned children and poor women who were widowed due to the pandemic will be covered under the Madhubabu Pension Scheme and will be given a regular monthly allowance. The state government had also announced that children whose parents are hospitalized will also be looked after.
Education in India is free and is a Fundamental Right
It is notable here that education in government schools all over India for children between 6-14 years is free. The Sarva Siksha Abhiyan was started as a flagship program by the government of India after the 86th Amendment to the constitution. The 86th Amendment made free and compulsory education for children between the 6-14 age group a Fundamental Right. Under SSA, all government schools provide free education, mid-day meals, and other facilities to children in the 6-14 year age group. Children under the 6 years age group are provided basic education, care, and mid-day meals at Anganwadi Centres.