Free bus passes for students has been a longstanding demand, one that successive governments have failed to meet. Former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah allocated Rs 836 crore towards the scheme but this move has been discontinued by his successors. Their announcement of free education for girls till the post-grad level is also in limbo, with the Kumaraswamy government appearing to choose to cover the cost of loan waivers by making students cough up more on transport. With the government mulling over shutting down over 20,000 government schools in near future, students will have no choice but to travel farther, making transport that much more expensive. From student bus passes and free education for girls to deciding on a suitable language policy for schools, the education sector in Karnataka is currently in a state of disarray.
Even as the coalition partners quibble over schemes that the Congress believes must be carried over from the last government, many who benefit from them are in a state of uncertainty, unsure what the future holds. For students looking forward to the free buses announced by the last government, it remains unclear whether they can still bank on the promise.
Many have taken to the streets to demand the passes and of late the agitation has intensified across the state for immediate implementation of the scheme announced by former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in his last budget in February.
Although protests and demonstrations led by different groups and organisations have been taking place in the state since early June, a final decision has still not been taken, angering the students even more. Dismayed by Chief Minister Kumaraswamy going back on his promise to include the scheme in the recent budgetary announcements , student leaders have now called for a state-wide education bandh on July 21, pointing out that the matter is of huge concern to over 19,60,000 school and college students.
Says Kalyan Kumar V, an eighth semester mechanical engineering student of the University Visvesvaraya College of Engineering (UVCE), “We have been actively campaigning , writing one letter after another to various authorities demanding free bus passes because it is essential for us to make ends meet when we have huge education loans under our belt. The government’s attitude in ignoring our demands is leading to huge resentment among the student community.”
Giving them a ray of hope, however, Primary and Secondary Education Minister, N. Mahesh on Tuesday announced that his department would reimburse 25 per cent of the total cost of the scheme. Following his offer, Transport Minister, D.C Thammanna too offered more hope saying he was expecting a student-friendly announcement soon. “As soon as the Chief Minister returns from Delhi, the Education Minister and I will present this matter to him. A final call will be taken within a week,” he promised.
But the students are determined to carry on with their agitation until the final order is passed, according to Pramod N, state president of the All India Democratic Students Organisation (AIDSO). “We have lost faith in the government as we have heard many such promises before. The bandh is still on,” he told the Deccan Chronicle, deploring that disagreements within the government were affecting the entire education sector and jeopardising the future of students.
Decisions to benefit us? Students losing hope
The Siddaramaiah government’s announcement of free education for girls till their post-graduation in government-run institutions in the state was hailed as a landmark move by many. But this scheme too is hanging fire with the present government showing little inclination to implement it.
Like many other students , Shishira Rao, a second year Commerce student of the New Fort PU College, says she is now losing hope that it will ever see the light of day. “If this scheme had been implemented it would have given me and many others wings to chase our dreams of pursuing higher education and stabilised the financial positions of our families. This promise should never been made if it cannot be kept. All it has done is give us false hope,” she rues.
The recent budget announcement offering English medium in a 1,000 government schools is also mired in confusion. While Chief Minister Kumaraswamy announced days after the budget that the government would “rectify the mistake” of announcing English as a medium of instruction in its schools, Primary and Secondary Education Minister, N. Mahesh insisted that the step was essential to bring them on par with private schools.
Mr Anil Shetty of the Nav Bharat Democratic Party, who also leads the #SaveGovtSchools campaign, thinks the Education Minister “makes more sense.” “As a product of a Kannada-medium government school, I always say that teaching English efficiently will help their students,” he maintains, arguing the move is a good alternative to closing down government schools that are losing students to private institutions . He is also in favour of free bus passes for all students. “If the government can think of gifting MPs with expensive freebies, why can’t it channelise some funds towards providing free transportation for students ?” he asks.
“It is disheartening to see our legislators failing to understand the fundamental rights of students, who constitute our future generation. The government is neither willing to provide a good school in their neighbourhoods , nor provide the students free transportation. Instead they are victimised by the elected representatives’ lack of awareness, which is completely unfair and unjust,” adds Dr Niranjanaradhya V.P., from the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Nagarbhavi....