The education department had claimed that 74,971 children were out-of-school.

Contrary to the state government’s stand that there are 74,971 out-of-school children (OOSC), the Centre has inferred the real figure to be 14 lakh. An RTI filed to access the minutes of a meeting conducted by the Project Approval Board (PAB) of the ministry of human resources development on April 7 this year, revealed that the Centre had questioned the state government’s claim on OOSC.

OOSC has remained a bone of contention for the state for long. The education department has also conducted a survey in July last year to figure out the actual number of students studying in state schools. Earlier this year, the department had claimed that 74,971 children were out-of-school. However, the minutes of the meeting have discrepancies in the figure stated by the state. The Centre suspects the figure to be more. “As per NER (Net Enrolment Ratio) for 2015-16, the OOSC could be more than 14 lakh, whereas the figure reported by the state is only 74,971,” read the minutes of the 236th meeting. The meeting was held to consider the annual work plan and budget 2016-17 of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan for the state of Maharashtra.

The minutes mentioned that for 2016-17, the figure might rise. “The following specific outcomes have been agreed to: It is expected that over the next three years there will be no OOSC. For the year 2016-17, state has identified 86,211 OOSC and has committed to enrol at least 68,000 children of these kids in schools during 2016-17,” it said.

Activists have blamed the state for hiding the real information. “In the minutes, the Centre has clearly mentioned that the OOSC could be 14 lakh in the state, which is a huge number and a matter of concern. If the state accepts the figure, it will have to open new schools, recruit more teachers and provide infrastructure, ” said Ghanshyam Sonar, who filed the RTI and is the convenor of Samaan Shikshan Mulbhut Adhikar.

Education minister Vinod Tawde and secretary of the department Nand Kumar did not reply to the text messages seeking their comments.