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Column: A Mission That Must Succeed

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: The launch of Mission Suvidya by chief minister, Naveen Patnaik to ensure better amenities for students in the hostels run by the scheduled tribes and scheduled caste development department is expected to give these institutions a much-needed face-lift. The SC&ST hostels had turned into the breeding ground of scandals with several cases of pregnancy of minor girls being reported. Students residing in some of these hostels had also protested against lack of basic facilities.

Launching the mission Patnaik talked about the aim of bringing a ‘qualitative shift’ in accommodation facilities provided to students in these hostels. Now he has to ensure that his promise translates into reality.

The ST & SC Development department runs as many as 6500 hostels with over 5.7 lakh students. The mission is supposed to guarantee quality in food provision for students and their health and hygiene. This, hopes the chief minister, will help them focus better on studies.

The image of SC&ST development department had taken a beating following sex scandals that rocked some of these hostels, the victims invariably being minor girls. One of the causes of teen pregnancy was reported from Dasmantpur block of Koraput district, the ill-fated girl having fallen prey to the lust of the cook of the school hostel.
Statistics confirm that young girls studying in the residential schools run by the SC&ST development department remain highly vulnerable to sexual predators prowling around them without their even being aware of their motives.

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As many as 16 cases of teenage pregnancy were reported from the residential schools of the department between 2009 and 2018. Significantly, most of these cases were reported from tribal-dominated districts such as Nabarangpur, Mayurbhanj, Malkangiri, Sundergarh, Kandhamal and Koraput.

The vulnerability of the girls residing in SC&ST hotels not only raises moral questions, but it also underscores the need for better management and the accountability of the people responsible for running them. The problems of management are evident not only from the sex scandals but also from complaints about other kinds of irregularities in the running of the hostels.

Last year there were media reports about 40 students of Tarlakota residential school in Korukonda block of Malkangiri district scaling the boundary wall of the school in the middle of the night and walking several miles to convey their grievances to the district collector. The students bitterly complained about the lack of electricity and drinking water facilities in their hostels. They decided to meet the district collector after school authorities failed to redress their grievances.

This was not the first incident of its kind. A similar incident had taken place in 2016 when a group of 73 girl students of a school in Mayurbhanj district walked 30 kilometres to meet the then district collector at Baripada to lodge a complaint against the matron of their hostel.

Such incidents are examples of bad management which, unfortunately, has been the most important feature of the hostels run by the SC&ST development department. One hopes things will take a turn for the better with the launch of Mission Suvidya.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)

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