“Tamso ma Jyotrigamaya” (lead us from darkness to light) is the oft-quoted inspiring Sanskrit verse etched on many a school wall.
Rightly so, because the abodes of learning do dispel the darkness of ignorance by igniting the young minds through knowledge. But in India, many schools in its rural areas are immersed in darkness in absence of electricity.
Similar was the case of 979 schools in Nagaur district of Rajasthan which were non-electrified till a couple of months ago.
But all thanks to an initiative Ujaas (light or illumination) launched by district collector Dr Jitendra Kumar Soni, the students of these elementary and middle schools will return to a well-lit school campus after lockdown restrictions are lifted. Aptly named as UJAAS, the electrification of these government schools has been executed largely with public participation.
It has been a rather long wait, though, for this milestone in the district, which holds the proud distinction of being the founding place of the Panchayati Raj system in the country.
Soon after joining as Collector of Nagaur district in July last year, Dr Soni learnt at a meeting with district-level education committees that hundreds of students in the district have to bear scorching heat since there’s no electricity in several schools. He immediately took cognizance of the fact and directed officials to identify the non-electrified schools.
Soon, an intensive survey was launched that revealed a total of 979 schools under the primary education department were without electricity. Nagaur is one of the largest districts in Rajasthan geographically speaking and electrifying schools situated in far-flung hamlets or villages was not an easy task. It needed substantial funds to execute the campaign.
An estimate was prepared and initially, those schools were taken up which could be electrified with available school funds or support from their respective Panchayats. Dr Soni decided to take the help of Bhamashahs (philanthropists) from industries, big companies and the public to help electrifying other schools located in far-flung areas.
His experience as Collector of Jalore district came in handy where under a campaign named “Charan Paduka Yojna” (footwear distribution scheme), nearly 30,000 underprivileged school children were provided shoes through public participation. The scheme met great success and was well applauded all over the state.
“Vast stretches of sand dunes, blistering heat, scattered hamlets and village is a common geographical picture of Marwar region in Rajasthan,” says Rajendra Joshi, the headmaster of Hanuman Nagar Primary School, situated on the border of Nagaur-Bikaner district.
“With electricity in the school premise, we can now think of introducing multimedia teaching mediums. I noticed during the SMILE (social media interface for learning engagement) Programme that children evinced great interest in learning through audio-visuals,” he said.
Inspired by the initiative, the panchayats and individuals are gradually coming forward to donate computers to these schools. The process is rather slow due to Covid-19 and also because schools have not yet reopened. It’s likely to pick up momentum if the schools reopen as per the state government’s recent announcement to reopen schools from Aug 2.
Since schools were closed due to Covid-19, the school staff could easily get the electrification done under their supervision without the tension of disturbing the teaching schedule. The required funds were generated through local philanthropists in no time and remaining expenses were taken care of from composite school grants and development funds available with schools.
“Normally, the basic cost to seek an electricity connection would be around Rs.4,500 but because of the huge distance from electricity pole to schools, the demand notice for some schools went up as high as Rupees Four Lakhs,” the Chief District School Officer Sampatram told. As soon as the non-electrified schools were identified, Dr Soni directed the Education Department and Ajmer Vidyut Vitran Nigam to work jointly in a true mission mode.
“Dr. Soni personally supervised the campaign and took special efforts to motivate companies and organizations to contribute to the Ujaas campaign. There are some schools in hamlets, with a student nomination of merely five or six but no school was left out from the campaign due to low nomination,” Sampatram added.
Dilip Kumar Sharma, who heads the middle school (set-up in 1954) located at Kantiya dhaani in Khinwsar block of Nagaur, said, “Electrification of schools will definitely provide relief during terrible summer months and pave way for education through computers in near future.”
“I have myself studied in a government school and I can very well relate to the joy of the children when they will see their school having lights, fans or coolers. Our thrust is that all government schools must have all basic facilities,” said Dr Soni.
Our next endeavour is to equip these schools with computers at the earliest. I am in touch with Bhamashahs and hopefully, the process will be expedited as soon as the Covid-19 situation improves, he added.
Like many old schools of Nagaur deprived of electricity since Independence, there are 11,154 unelectrified government schools in Rajasthan. Taking a cue from the success of the Ujaas initiative in Nagaur, the State Government has now directed to take up electrification of these schools with the help of philanthropists, gram panchayats and available funds with the schools.
The Chief Secretary, Planning, Naveen Jain has written to all the District Collectors on the direction of the Chief Minister to emulate the Nagaur model to electrify the schools in their respective districts.
After the success of UJAAS, the District Collector, who is also an award-winning author and poet, sensitive to the needs of the rural hinterland, is busy working on another initiative – “Ladesar” (the loving kids) aimed at improving the health of malnourished children in the district.
This article has been written by Dr Abha Sharma from Rajasthan for Charkha Features.