COVID-19: Parents in Indian state spending money meant to buy kids’ books on food stuff

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Indian schoolchildren receive a free meal at a school in Patna in a file picture. In the last financial year, only 11 per cent of parents bought books from the government aid credited to their accounts, while in 2019-20, it was 19 per cent. Image Credit: AFP

Patna: Poverty-stricken villagers in Bihar are spending children’s money meant for buying school books on purchasing food stuff and other essentials with their economic condition turning from bad to worse as a result of COVID-19 and eventual lockdowns.

According to a report of the Bihar government, in the past two years less than 20 per cent of parents bought books for their children from the money provided by the government for this particular purpose.

In the last financial year, only 11 per cent of parents bought books from the government aid credited to their accounts, while in 2019-20, it was 19 per cent.

“We have the information that a very small percentage of guardians are buying books for their children from the government money being credited to their bank accounts. The government has taken a very serious note of this,” Bihar education minister Vijay Kumar Chaudhary said on Wednesday.

The state government started crediting money to the bank accounts of children/parents to buy textbooks in 2018 after receiving repeated complaints about delay in distribution of books supplied by the Bihar State Textbook Publishing Corporation Limited. The government hoped that the cash transfer would help parents buy books for their children on time.

But now, a fairly new issue has arisen. Instead of buying books, the parents are using the money for food stuff and other essentials with COVID-19 drying up their sources of income. It may be mentioned here that under the Right to Education Act, the government has to provide free textbooks to children enrolled from Grade 1 to Grade 8.

Advantages of cash transfers

“There are indeed many advantages of cash transfers but we have to understand the ground realities in rural areas. We should know that a majority of students enrolled in government schools are children from poor families. Thus, it is common for them to spend money meant for books on medicines and food grains,” explained a social scientist S Narayan. “The parents of such families assume that the children will read even without a book,” he added.

The chief executive officer Pratham Education Foundation, a non-governmental organsation, Rukmini Banerji said the children must have books in their hands. “The government should ensure the books reach them latest by July,” she added.

According to a study, the COVID-19 and the resultant restrictions have worsened the economic condition of people with many of them losing jobs and subsequently returning homes.

According to the report of Azim Premji University, the pandemic and eventual lockdowns have pushed as many as 230 million Indians into poverty in the past one year. The report said the rural poverty rate increased by 15 percentage points whereas the urban poverty rate went up by nearly 20 points. “The number of individuals who lie below the national minimum wage threshold (Rs 375 per day as recommended by the Anoop Satpathy committee) increased by 230 million during the pandemic,” said the report titled ‘State of Working India 2021: One Year of Covid-19’. The report came in May this year. About 15 million workers remained out of work by the end of 2020 while about 100 million people lost jobs during the nationwide April-May 2020 lockdown, the report said.