Can private players substitute the state in providing education and health care, if the public sector fails? The government of Rajasthan thinks so. It has proposed outsourcing the management of public schools and health centres to private players to fix problems in delivering these basic services.

In May, the Vasundhara Raje-led government released a new education policy. Under this, existing schools will be handed over to not-for-profit trusts, societies and companies to administer, with the government sponsoring all students’ fees. Further, the government will allow private entities to set up new schools with public funds. In a section of upcoming schools, the government will bear only 40% of students’ fees. Private players will hire all teaching and non-teaching staff in these schools.

Along similar lines, state parliamentary affairs minister Rajendra Rathore announced last week the state cabinet’s decision to give primary health centres to private players to manage through an open bidding system. This will be done in a phased manner, starting with 90 of the total 2,082 centres.

The government has cited the “efficiency” of the private sector in delivering education facilities as a reason for the shift from public to public-private partnership model. In its policy document, it refers to “better learning outcome in private schools despite lower per student expenditure” to justify its move.

For health facilities, Rathore said the decision was taken as there was a chronic shortage of staff in the primary health centres.

The opposition as well as several health and education activists questioned the policy, accusing the government of washing hands off even its basic responsibilities.

The fine print

As per the draft “Policy for public private partnership (PPP) in school education 2015”, the government has proposed four models to run schools, inviting private entities to apply both under first-come, first-served basis and through competitive bidding.

For existing schools:

1. Private partner will be selected to manage schools on first come first serve basis, with government sponsoring 100% students, giving fees as well as textbooks and mid-day meals. Government sponsored students will be charged as per prevailing fee structure in other government schools. Private partner can select any government school located in the state.

2. Private partner will be selected for management of existing government schools through bidding with government sponsoring 100% students. The state will select the schools based on educational backwardness of the area.

For new schools:

3. Private partner will be selected for establishing new schools in blocks other than Educationally Backward Blocks through bidding. Government will sponsor 40% students paying fee as per fee in other government schools. The remaining 60% students will pay fee prescribed by the private partner as per law.

4. Private partner will establish new schools in Educationally Backward Blocks through bidding with government sponsoring 100% students.

The health centres given to private partners who would provide doctors, paramedics and all staff, and would offer free outpatient department services, and 24-hour emergency services. The government is yet to release a policy document on details of the shape of the shift in delivering health facilities.

Questions remain

Congress leader Jitendra Singh, a former Member of Parliament, said bringing in private players in health and education will lead to commercialisation of these basic services. “The government’s aim is to lower its costs of providing health and education services but this won't work,” he said. “We have already seen previous attempts fail, such as the outsourcing of the Mewat Vikas Board scheme for girls’ education, which failed to deliver anything.”

Activists of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, a group of civil society organisations working on public health too, said the Rajasthan government was ignoring the evidence and lessons from previous experiments in Uttarakhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh where the state governments had faced serious setbacks while bringing in private players into delivering primary health services. “In some of these places the private companies gave up within no time and refused to run the health facilities as they felt that their profits were getting compromised. They found it difficult to run the health facilities within the allotted government funds,” said activist Chhaya Pachauli.

Amra Ram, a former MLA and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader pointed out that the PPP education policy contradicts the law, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009, which states that the state will provide free and compulsory education to all children between ages 6 and 14. He termed the proposals the “biggest loot of public money”.

“The ministers are saying 4,000 doctors’ posts in the state are vacant” he said. “Then why can the government not fill these? The Raje government is handing over control of schools that occupy some of the prime land in Rajasthan’s cities.”

As per the document on PPP in education, private partners will have the right to use government building or land “for education purpose only” and the ownership over it will remain with the state. “But what about coaching centres? Later on, private entities may justify running tuition and commercial coaching centres under the guise of education purposes,” said Komal Srivastava, president of Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti, Rajasthan. She termed the policy an attempt by the government to change school education as per the ideological leanings of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh by creating space for RSS-affiliated bodies to actively run schools in the state.

Activists of the Budget Analysis Rajasthan Centre said the PPP policy on education failed to give adequate evidence while claiming greater efficiency or better learning outcomes in private schools. “As per Annual Survey of Education Report, in 2013, 41.1% of class V students from public schools could perform educational tasks of class II successfully, which had increased to 42.2 % in 2014,” BARC noted in a public statement. “In contrast, the same measure fell from 63.3% to 62.5% of class V students of private schools from 2013 to 2014.”

It pointed out that as per the Annual Survey of Education Report, two-thirds of the gap between the learning outcomes of students in public and private schools was explained by factors such as parents’ socio-economic and educational status, instead of the difference between public and private management of schools. Also, the activists pointed to the experience of students in Navodaya Vidyalaya, Kendriya Vidyalaya and other government schools which with adequate government support had shown good exam results.

Unions representatives said instead of creating 15 lakh new jobs as Raje had promised, with these policies the chief minister would take away jobs from the staff in schools and public health centres.

Rajasthan Chief Secretary CS Rajan did not respond to request for comments.