Sindh Textbook Board’s failure to supply free books to schoolchildren not acceptable

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Chairman Sindh Human Rights Commission (SHRC) Iqbal Detho said in his suo motu notice of Sindh Textbook Board’s (STB) failure to supply free textbooks to many schools across the province that the board deliberately did not provide textbooks to students as per demand of each school of the province in violation of Article 25(A) of the Constitution and relevant provisions of the Sindh Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2013.

He said in a communication addressed to Chief Secretary of Sindh on Wednesday that documentary evidence revealed that the STB failed to give reasonable explanation for its failure to provide free books, and dismissed the board secretary’s pretexts blaming the shortfall of textbooks on inflation and raise in price of dollar, cost of production, printing and transportation etc.

He said the reasons were nothing but lame excuses as the STB should have borne in mind that supply of free textbooks to students was mandatory and its failure to do so would render irreparable and national loss.

He said that as per a newspaper report dated Aug 11, 2023 the STB sources disclosed there was mega corruption in the board’s Jamshoro offices with the result that lower number of textbooks was published and a huge number of students remained deprived of free books thus it led to frustration among students, parents and educators.

He said that by exercising statutory power under Section 4 (i) of the Sindh Protection of Human Rights Act, 2011, the SHRC sent notice to STB Secretary, Jamshoro, for filing written comments and in response he mentioned challenges faced by the STB in the publication and distribution of textbooks.

He said that the STB secretary underlined that drastic devaluation of Pakistani currency against US dollar which sustainably increased price of essential commodities including, electricity, gas, petroleum products, labour charges, expenses of paper, bleach card, printing, binding material and transportation in comparison with previous years had badly affected STB’s performance.

Mr Detho said the commission raised questions if non-supply of free textbooks within stipulated period did not constitute infringement of the Article 25-A of the Constitution and enabling provisions of the Sindh Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2013, and hamper fundamental right of education to children.

The SHRC periodically sent notices to District Education Officer (DEO) of Larkana to seek reports on supply of free textbooks and learnt that the books were not distributed in various schools of Ratodero taluka and other talukas of Larkana district.

Mr Detho said that during a visit to DEO Primary and Secondary Jacobabad, Ms Safia Brohi, who complained to him about shortfall of free textbooks in the district.

The STB secretary failed to appear before the SHRC for filing any rejoinder if he had any but he did not in gross negligence on his part, he said.

Going through material in shape of statements, comments of parties and documents it came to the fore that the STB deliberately did not supply free textbooks to the students as per demand of each of the school of the province of Sindh for which no reasonable explanations had been given. Thus the STB violated fundamental right guaran-teed to every child under Article 25(A) of the Constitution and the relevant provisions of the Sindh Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2013, he said.

Mr Detho said the STB’s reasons for shortfall of textbooks due to inflation and raise in the price of dollar, production, printing, transportation etc. were nothing but lame excuses.

If the STB were justified it should have borne in mind that supply of free textbooks to students was mandatory and its failure to provide free books would amount to irreparable national loss, he said.

He said the SHRC directed secretary of School Education and Literacy Department to promptly take necessary actions to address shortfall of free textbooks, ensure timely resolution of the problem and that mechanism s were in place to track progress effectively.

Acknowledgement: Published in Dawn News on 4th April 2024.

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