Government schools in Bihar have struck off the names of more than 20 lakh students for remaining absent, The Indian Express reported.

More than 70,000 schools across the state’s 38 districts have so far removed names of students enrolled between classes 1 and 12, data collected by the Bihar education department showed, according to the newspaper. Over 1.5 lakh of these 20 lakh students are in classes 10 and 12, who will not be able to write their state board examinations.

On Monday, Bihar Secondary Education Director Kanhaiya Prasad Srivastava reportedly asked officials to ensure that the class 10 and 12 students whose names had been removed do not write the state board examinations.

Following inspections at government schools over the past four months, the education department asked schools to remove students who had been absent for a period of 30 days, reported The Indian Express.

This time period was later reduced to 15 days. Eventually, schools were permitted to remove names of students who had been absent for three consecutive days without informing the authorities.

Citing unidentified officials of the education department, the newspaper reported that the move was aimed at ensuring that the government’s resources are utilised well and benefit deserving students.

Many students remain absent for long periods from school because their parents make them work in the fields or ask them to assist them in their businesses, the unidentified official told the newspaper.

“Some children also study in private schools while keeping their names in government school rolls,” the official said. “We want only serious students in schools so that we can focus on them. All government benefits and scholarships should go to only genuine students. Only regular students should avail themselves of the government’s lunch scheme, too.”

However, teachers’ organisations in the state have said that the Bihar government’s decision defeats the purpose of motivating students to study.

“We wonder how and why the government ignored the Right to Education Act’s provisions for universal education,” The Indian Express quoted Bihar Teacher Eligibility Test Association President Amit Vikram as saying. “A school can strike off the name of a child only if he or she is enrolled in another school, and is absent for a very long duration.”

Vikram added that the association will also meet other teachers’ groups and challenge the government’s “arbitrary” decision before the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.