“A Grant Sans Riders” – Bhond Village Education Committee
In 2007, the village school of Bhond in the Mewat region of Haryana, India received a grant for infrastructural development under the government’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan scheme. The scheme was launched in 2001 to provide elementary education to all children between the ages of 6-14 years by 2010. The grant for Bhond village school was set for Rs. 9.50 lac (Rs. 950,000). It was allocated for the construction of eaves in three classrooms, repair of two non-operational classrooms, mud leveling in the playground, boundary wall plaster, and installation of a school gate.
When the school principal was due to receive the grant, government officials informed him that the school would only receive 60%. The officials had kept the other 40% to be divided up amongst them. The principal turned to the Village Education Committee (VEC) for support in resolving this matter.
The state encourages villagers to form and participate in VECs. These committees monitor and work to address any problems that arise in the local education system. The formation of these groups helps to decentralize educational administration and enables communities to effectively advocate for their educational needs.
A meeting was held amongst the 13 members of the Bhond VEC, local Sarpanch (village council leader), school principal, and Project Implementation Team of Sehgal Foundation. Together, they agreed to fight for the total amount of funds the school had been granted.
The Local Education Department continued to pressurize schoolteachers to accept the offer of 60% of the grant. The teachers remained firm that they would only accept the full amount. The VEC and Sehgal Foundation field staff approached the District Education Department and raised the issue. The Education Department continued to refuse payment the full amount. They ordered a transfer of the school principal in hopes that this would halt the villager’s demands. Instead, the Education Department’s actions caused outrage amongst the entire village.
Another VEC meeting was arranged and 150 villagers attended. The new school principal was prevented from attending and villagers insisted that the old principal be reinstated. VEC members approached the District Education Office and pressurized them to take action. Their hard work and persistence paid off. The old school principal was reinstated and the District Education Department agreed to pay the school the full amount of its grant.
The VEC, school administration and Sehgal Foundation field staff are now implementing the new school infrastructure development work. The project is nearing completion. The VEC members were still required to pay a small amount of the grant for project clearance, but it was much less than the 40% initially demanded.
It took Bhond VEC an entire year to receive the grant, but a number of lessons were learned. The first is that truth and honesty can overcome dishonesty when one perseveres. The second is that there is strength in numbers. Community empowerment is the most effective tool for initiating change and development. We hope other VECs will learn from Bhond’s experience. Organizing themselves and standing up for what they deserve can pay off with a little bit of persistence. VECs have the power to demand for better education in rural villages across India.
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