Question of height makes ride bumpy for free Chhattisgarh cycles

CycleEducation dept for 20-inch cycles, finance favours 22 inches

The Chhattisgarh government's free cycle scheme for girl students has run into a controversy, with the two most powerful men in the state government engaged in a tussle over the height of the cycles. While School Education Minister Brijmohan Agarwal has said the height of the cycles should remain 20 inches as originally specified, the finance department headed by Chief Minister Raman Singh wants it to be 22 inches.

Agarwal has alleged that the finance department officials are "agents of cycle manufacturers" and have accepted "moti rakam" from them. The finance department, which sanctions the funds, has hit back by changing the scheme fundamentally — direct cash benefit instead of free cycles.

According to the Saraswati Cycle Yojna launched in 2004-05, free cycles are distributed to Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe girls when they reach Class IX. In 2007-08, OBC and BPL general category girls were included in the scheme. While 20-inch cycles were distributed earlier, the height was changed to 22 inches after a few years, reportedly following a contract with major manufacturers Atlas and Avon.

Last month, the school education department sent a note to the finance department stating, "Before 2012-13, 22-inch cycles were being purchased for Saraswati Cycle Yojna. In 2012-13, the (education) department constituted a committee on the demand of school girls that they be given 20-inch cycles instead of 22 inches. On the recommendation of this committee, the department decided to purchase 20-inch cycles."

According to official communication between the two departments, copies of which are with The Indian Express, Agarwal also wanted local cycle manufacturers to be roped in for the scheme while the finance department preferred Atlas and Avon. In the first half of the 2013-14 fiscal year, Rs 35.50 crore was earmarked for the scheme.

The finance department, in its reply, said, "There is no rationale for the proposal." It pointed to a Chhattisgarh State Industrial Development contract with Atlas and Avon for 22-inch cycles. "The selection of 20-inch cycles would deprive prestigious companies like Atlas and Avon," it said.

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