‘Vajpayee’ schemes in Cong crosshairs, now free uniform initiative to be scrapped

Having initially claimed that it was a centrally funded scheme when in opposition, the Congress government is now preparing a draft paper to scrap another flagship initiative of the previous BJP government that was aimed at providing free school uniforms for students in government schools .

The Atal Free School Uniform Scheme has benefited nearly 10 lakh students, of classes I-X, but the new government has asked the education department to stop distribution of uniforms till a formal decision is taken at the cabinet level. The department has instead been told to submit a proposal after having completely restructured the scheme.

"We don't really know if the government is thinking of completely scrapping the scheme or implementing it in some other format. It could be converted into Direct Cash Transfers," a senior IAS officer said.

The innovative uniform scheme was launched by then BJP president Nitin Gadkari about a year back and was a completely state funded initiative entailing an expenditure of Rs 62 crore per annum. The beneficiaries, particularly students belonging to BPL families, were to receive uniforms twice a year. They were also to be provided the cost of stitching. A high-level committee under chief secretary Sudripta Roy had even decided the colour of the uniform while the state's Civil Supplies Corporation was chosen as the implementing agency. Students have already been provided the first two batches of uniforms.

Even before its launch, however, the Congress — then in Opposition — had questioned the tendering process and tried to corner the BJP government in the assembly. It later also included the issue in the party 'charge-sheet' submitted to President Pranab Mukherjee.

During Assembly elections, Congress leaders began claiming that the scheme was centrally funded, but found itself on the wrong foot as state government provided a budget of Rs 62 crore. " Tell me which other Congress- ruled state has started the scheme if it was a centrally funded one?" former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal had said.

The Congress government's latest decision is another attempt to tinker with schemes that have been named in honour of former BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and comes after Health Minister Kaul Singh Thakur had directed agencies to remove Vajpayee's name from the ambulance scheme, while Food and Supplies minister G S Bali passed orders to destroy PDS bags with Vajpayee's photographs.

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