Expressing shock over the death of nearly 800 children in Ashram schools in Maharashtra since 2001, a parliamentary panel has asked the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to seek a detailed report and take corrective as well as punitive action.
In its report on the Working of Ashram Schools in Tribal Areas, the Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment said that it was "shocked" to note during the study visit that 793 children died in Ashram schools in Maharashtra from 2001-2002 to 2012-2013 due to snake bites, scorpion bites, fever and minor illness.
The committee said the state government conducted 609 primary enquiries and as a result thereof, 74 employees were suspended, departmental enquiry initiated against 28 employees, show cause notice were issued to 39 employees and 99 were given memorandum and warning.
"The committee is not satisfied with the action as it is a clear case of criminal neglect on the part of the schools' authorities in not ensuring timely treatment for the tribal children which could have saved their precious lives," the panel said.
It recommended that the ministry calls for a detailed report from all the states concerned in this regard and that necessary corrective and punitive measures are taken.
The panel also expressed concern over the fact that despite several campaigns the literacy rates among Scheduled Tribes continued to lag behind the national average.
In its report the Standing Committee said that despite several campaigns to promote educational development of the Scheduled Tribes since independence, the literacy rates among the STs vis-a-vis the national average continue to show wide gap.
The panel said while the overall literacy gap among various groups and STs has come down from 19.77 per cent to 14.03 per cent, a scrutiny of literacy data reveals that while in northeastern states like Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland, STs are on par with general population but in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal the literacy gap is still as high as 18 to 26 per cent.
"The Committee exhorts the government to view the large disparity in literacy rates of STs in these states which have lagged in almost all socio-economic parameters, with all seriousness and promote educational development for STs in these states on a mission mode which alone has the potential to open flood gates for development of the STs," the committee said.
It said that the Ministry of Tribal Affairs has been implementing a scheme 'Establishment of Ashram Schools in Tribal Sub Plan Areas' but expressed concern that in its 20 years of operation only 862 Ashram schools have been sanctioned in 14 states.
It asked the ministry to pursue with the finance ministry to seek more funds for the scheme and also incentivise and guide states to open more such schools.