The alleged corruption in the Kerala government’s decision to outsource the printing of the school textbooks has raised quite a few eyebrows.
Three weeks have passed since the school reopened and the government has not been able to make the necessary material available on time. A majority of the state syllabus students are yet to receive the textbooks for this academic year. When questioned about the rare crisis faced by the students, Education Minister P K Abdu Rabb has said that the printing of 75 per cent of textbooks from Classes I to X had been completed and the remaining textbooks would be printed within a week. The government had entrusted the printing of 60 lakh textbooks with its own presses. The Kerala Books and Publications Society (KBPS) was created exclusively to print textbooks at an affordable rate. Despite being aware that the schools would reopen on June 1, the state-owned presses have been sluggish in delivering their order. The printing in the government presses was reportedly suspended to facilitate the handover of printing to the private presses. The printing order has been given to a private press for six times the cost at which the books could have been printed by the state-owned KBPS. Instead of improving the efficiency of KBPS, the government was concerned with handing over the printing to the private companies proving the ineptness of Chandy government in handling the education sector.
The Chief Minister admitted that there were lapses in the printing of the textbooks due to ‘technical reasons’ and that it would soon be sorted out. He also justified saying that he wasn’t aware that the government presses had been directed to stop the printing work. Additional Director General of Police B. Sandhya had filed a plea citing corruption and anomalies as the reasons for delaying the printing process. Following the allegations, the Court ordered Sandhya to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the matter and verify the truth. Allegations that the government presses were favouring the private contractors had been present from the beginning. Blame games are being continued. Around 43 lakh textbooks are yet to be printed and neither the Education Department nor the concerned authorities seem to bother about the completion of the work. Since there were no changes in the textbooks of classes 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 10, the printing of those text books should have commenced as early as August 2014. But the order was issued only on October 28 and the paper and other materials were made available in February. KBPS informed the Education Department of its inability to complete the printing on time only days before the school reopening. It had also informed that at least 75 lakh textbooks would have to be printed outside.
The four presses functioning under the state government have not been utilized fully and effectively. The authorities testify that things had been on a smooth run until 2010 when the KBPS and the government presses worked hand in hand. Despite recent revamping, the state owned presses have not returned to their erstwhile system, the reasons for which are known only to the people at the top. The Kerala State Centre for Advanced Printing and Technologies (C-APT) were entrusted with the printing of 43 lakh textbooks. It invited tenders and only one among the three companies, Manipal Technologies, gained the contract. As a result, one of the bidding presses based in Thiruvananthapuram has approached the High Court. Top leaders have also strongly opposed the inappropriateness of only one company gaining the order due to which steps for re-tender was decided by the Cabinet. The future of 70 lakh students is at stake. It would take months to complete the procedures which mean that the textbooks wouldn’t be ready anytime soon.