India made international headlines last week with the official enactment of Right to Education Act (RTE) guaranteeing the right to free and compulsory education to every child between the age group of 4 and 16 years. But barely a week after it was passed by Parliament, the RTE has been mired in an intense debate over centre-state relations. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Mayawati has led criticisms of the RTE, arguing that the new law puts an immense implementation and fiscal burden on already cash strapped states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. A number of states including West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Bihar and Punjab have voiced similar concerns about how they will fund the RTE.
The current exchange of barbs and criticisms across party lines highlights an important question: in an increased era of centralization, where policies are designed by the centre but implemented by states – where do states find the resources to fund and implement such massive programs? And who is ultimately accountable for how these programs are rolled out on the ground? Who is answerable for how monies were spent, progress made and targets achieved? These questions are not restricted to the RTE but apply to the broader package of social reforms including the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, National Rural Health Mission, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission introduced by the government in the last few years.
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