FREE AND COMPULSORY EDUCATION - VITHALBHAI PATEL


The fundamental need of the country at the present time is a wide diffusion of education among the people. At the last Census, only 149, in one thousand males and 13 in one thousand females were literate in the sense of being able to write a letter to a friend read his reply, Children under 15 years of age are not included in Ibis estimate, this one circumstance militates against attempts at every kind of improvement. The late Mr. Gokhale introduced a Bill in the Imperial Legislative Council five years ago to permit the introduction of, free and compulsory education by local bodies within & their areas under certain stringent conditions. The Bill was opposed by Government and thrown out. It is now generally recognized that the action of Government in opposing that very cautions measure was a great mistake. Government of course, made promises of furthering primary education, and made some large grants for the purpose. But the war has intervened and has put in end to all progress for many years. One of the arguments used by Sir Harcourt Butler, the then member for Education, against Mr. Gokhale's Bill was that such a measure should be introduced in the provincial and not in the Indian Legislative Council. Acting on the suggestion, the Hon. Mr. V. J. Patel, obtained the permission or Government to introduce Bill to permit municipalities in this Presidency, other than the Bombay Municipal Corporation, to introduce free and compulsory primary education within their jurisdictions, The Bill passed into law at the last session of the Bombay Legislative Council and awaits the assent of the Viceroy.

The Act provides that, with the previous sanction of the local Government, a municipality may declare by notification that primary education of boys and girl or of boys only or of girls only shall be compulsory from a given date. The limit of age in the Act is between 6 and 11 years. The load Government should be satisfied before the notification is issued that the municipality is in a position, to make and will make adequate provision in municipal or other recognized schools for free and compulsory primary education, The resolution of the municipality must be passed at general meeting specially called in this behalf, and must be supported by at least, two-third of the councilors present at the meeting, and by at least one-half of the whole number of councilors Among reasonable excuses for non-attendance at school of a child, is that there is no  recognized school within one mile, measured according to the nearest road, from residence of the child. The school committee of the municipality is the authority entrusted with the duty of making inquiries and passing orders enjoining the attendance of children at school, and no cognizance can be taken of failure to send a child to school except on the complaint of the committee. The maximum fine that can be imposed for the offence is five pees. The penalty for employing children, in respect of whom the provisions of the Act apply, so as to interfere with their efficient instruction, is a maximum fine of twenty five rupees. The clause "so as to interfere with the efficient instruction of such child." was introduced at the second reading of the Bill in the Council against the protest of the mover and several other members. For the purpose of this Act the municipality is empowered to levy special taxation. The only other important provision of the Act is that which authorizes Government to exempt any particular class from its operation.

It will be seen from this summary of the main provisions of the Act, that it is best with numerous and effective safeguards against hasty and injudicious application. In anticipation of the Viceroy's assent, the Municipality of Bandra, and ancient town in the island of Salsette, separated from Bombay City by a narrow creek, has passed, virtually unanimously, resolutions asking for the sanction of the local government to apply the provisions of the Act within the area under its control to both boys and girls. Bandra was two centuries ago the site of a great Portuguese Collage priesthood. Manucci, the author of the famous chronicles of the great Moghuls, lived there for about a year and has left in interesting account of his sojourn in Bandra in his monumental work. The town has a population of 25000 inhabitants. Thanks to the labours of the Roman Catholic clergy, a considerable proportion, about 60% of the population of school going age, is already at school. The task before the municipality is thus very much lighter than in many other towns in this country. The fact that Mr. Patel, the author of the legislation, is a member of the municipal council, has of course greatly stirred the enthusiasm of his colleagues. The municipality proposes to increase the house tax and to earmark the proceeds of much increase for the special object of primary education. We hope that the example of Bandra will be followed by many other municipalities in this Presidency where the conditions are favourable to the application of Mr. Patel's Act.

Indian Social Reformer - January 20th, 1918

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