Row over minister's comment on children in Chhattisgarh

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Raipur, Apr 4 (UNI) A controversy is raging in Chhattisgarh state over School Education Minister Ajay Chandrakar's statement that the government alone cannot shoulder the responsibility of providing education facilites.

''People say that it is the responsibility of the government to provide facilities for education. Did the government have any role in producing children?'' he said at a workshop on ''Public Private Partnership in school education here yesterday.

The workshop was attended mainly by local industrialists and businessmen, who discussed the ways and means for introducing a public-private partnership model to promote school education in the state.

The minister's remarks sparked protests from opposition Congress, which described the statement as highly irresponsible and said Chief Minister Dr Raman Singh and Mr Chandrakar should tender an apology to the people.

Senior Congress leader and former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi termed the statement as 'objectionable' saying that children belonging to the poor, weaker sections and middle class were dependent on the government schools for education.

''It is an insult to children and their parents,'' he said, adding Dr Singh must apologise for his minister's irresponsible behaviour.

Mr Jogi said the so-called move for public-private partnership in school education was an attempt to handover prime land and buildings of government schools to businessmen.

Leader of the opposition in the assembly Mahendra Karma took strong exception to the minister's statement saying that it was unwarranted. ''In a welfare state, it is the responsibility of the government to provide facilities for education,'' he added.

While the Youth Congress burnt an effigy of the minister, Students Federation of India (SFI) staged a demonstration at the venue of the workshop immediately after television channels aired the minister's controversial statement.

In a statement, state SFI General Secretary Rajesh Awasthy alleged that an attempt was being made to handover the government schools and its land to industrialists and brokers, through a backdoor of Public-Private Partnership.

He said neither educationists nor representatives of students union were invited to attend the workshop as only the minister, few bureaucrats and local industrialists and businessmen were present to discuss the matter.

A delegation of SFI also met the Director of Public Instruction (DPI) and submitted a memorandum protesting the move for ''privatisation'' of school education.

However, School Education Secretary Nandkumar denied that the Public Private Partnership formula was infact aimed to save education from privatisation. ''Every year, the number of children in government schools is reducing. People are opting for private schools. The PPP model will help arrest this trend,'' he claimed.

When contacted, Mr Chandrakar said the opposition was trying to rake up non-issues for political reasons. ''I think my statement has been misunderstood,'' he added.

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