Punjab Minister Pargat Singh's missive to Kejriwal & Sisodia: ‘I too can take pics of dirty toilets’

Campaigning in poll-bound Punjab, Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia have made school education a poll issue. Sisodia and Punjab’s education minister Pargat Singh are engaged in a war of words

Representative image
Representative image

Sanjukta Basu

Both Punjab and Delhi have similar population size of around 30 million. But there the similarities end. While the area under NCT is 1,480 square Km, Punjab is spread over 50,000 sq. Km. Delhi is governed by both the central and a state government and is flush with funds. While Delhi’s per capital income is three times higher than the national average at over Rs. 3 lakh, Punjab’s is Rs. 1.19 lakh, higher than the national average of Rs. 95,000. The Government of NCT of Delhi also has limited responsibilities, prompting the Punjab education minister to derisively say that Arvind Kejriwal is administering a municipality.

As the war of words continues, we caught up with former hockey Olympian and Punjab’s education minister Pargat Singh to get some clarity. Excerpts:

Punjab’s contractual teachers have been protesting and demanding regularisation for several months. What is coming in the way of a resolution?

The issue is old and remains unresolved largely due to conflicting interests of different teachers’ unions. Due to the Centre’s half-baked policies, state governments suffer. The Centre created teachers’ posts under various schemes and even recruited the teachers. So, these teachers were not employed by Punjab Government. But after 2-3 years, the Centre said they cannot pay the salary anymore and the burden falls upon the state government. Many such cases have piled up over the years. That said, we can recruit these teachers in the 32,000 sanctioned posts we have, but different groups are not able to come to the same page on their various demands.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia have been meeting the teachers and giving them various assurances…

Comparing Delhi and Punjab is laughable. I do not even feel like engaging with such discourse. Mr Kejriwal has barely 2,000 schools while Punjab is a border state with over 19,000 schools. There are schools in inaccessible areas or which require river crossings. We recruit special cadre for border area schools. Delhi is a metropolitan city and the national capital. What Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is doing is just because elections are near. They have no real interest in discussing the education model. If they did, I would have been happy to engage because we can always learn something from each other. I thought Kejriwal and Sisodia are new generation of politicians so they will take things seriously and send a delegation with domain experts to study and compare the education models. But I was wrong.

If you must compare, there should be some accepted parameters. There is no better index than the National Performance Grade Index (PGI) which has 70 parameters to measure school education. Punjab stands at no.1 position in the latest PGI Report for 2019-20 while Delhi is at no.6.

Punjab was above Delhi on all 5 parameters-- learning outcomes, Access, Infrastructure & Facilities, Equity and Governance in the survey. Will Kejriwal or Sisodia engage with us on this survey?

Kejriwal in Punjab promised regular jobs for contractual teachers, a transparent transfer policy, permanent recruitment on vacant posts, sending teachers abroad for training etc. Your response?

Let him first do these things in Delhi itself. Delhi has over 22,000 guest faculty. Why is Kejriwal not regularising them? He has not opened a single new school despite the promise of 500 new schools in their manifesto. 42% of non-teaching staff posts are lying vacant in Delhi. The student-teacher ratio in Punjab government schools is 26:1 whereas in Delhi it is 35:1. Around 15% of Delhi govt schools have an adverse pupil to teacher ratio compared to less than 4% in Punjab. 760 Delhi schools do not have a principal, around 480 schools do not have a vice principal. Why is he not filling these posts?

Manish Sisodia has released a list of 250 schools and claimed you are not taking up the challenge…

We have 19,000 schools. I would send him the entire list. Moreover, the latest PGI report not only ranked Punjab no.1, it also showed that Punjab has improved the score from previous years by 20% whereas Delhi has improved it by 5%. Is this not sufficient to tell which state has transformed education, which model is better?

Mr. Sisodia has claimed that they have sent teachers abroad for training; he also claimed there are better infrastructure in the 10 schools he showed as sample. Do you disagree?

We have sent our teachers for training to Indian School of Business. We have sent them to Canada. We have built 41,000 smart classrooms in 13,000 schools. These classrooms have the latest computers, laptops and other technologies. 3500 Punjab schools can be instantly addressed through EDUSAT. We have online transfer policy which has processed 29,000 teachers’ transfer without any political or other interference. I can go on.

Manish Sisodia visited government schools in CM Charanjit Singh Channi’s constituency and cited ‘poor infrastructure’. What happened?

This week they forced their entry to a few schools. The Principals objected to the entry of political workers, but they did not listen. They barged in, took photos and left. I too can visit 10 schools in Delhi and photograph dirty toilets. I thought they are educated, new generation politicians. What education model are they building, I wonder

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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