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turning night INTO DAWN

Dr Nita Mukherjee documents an NGO that’s helping meet the challenges of Mumbai’s night-school students

Nikita Ketkar, the founder of Masoom, stumbled upon the idea of helping night-school students in 2001. She was deputed by the Armed Forces Headquarters Civil Services on a project to identify domestic child workers in Mumbai night schools. Nikita says, “I came across self-motivated students. They worked during the day and attended evening classes. They came because they wanted to learn. It was sad to see that they lacked the basic facilities that could do justice to their aspirations.” In 2006, Nikita undertook further research on the subject under a PUKAR (Partners for Urban Knowledge Action and Research) scholarship. The research revealed the appalling condition of these students: Often they did not have the basic educational materials and infrastructure—there were no books; no workbooks; so the question of having science labs was a distant dream. So moved was Nikita by the plight of these highly motivated students and their lack of access to the basics that she gave up her civil service career and took up their cause as a mission. Her entire team of six researchers, some of whom had previously studied at night schools, joined in. Masoom was set up in January 2008.

Night schools are run in municipal school premises from 6:30pm to 9:30pm; most kids come after long hours of work. Masoom provides meals for these students. Nikita adds, “We want to improve not just their academic knowledge but also employability. Many students, who earlier had to study on an empty stomach, could not focus. Sometimes, it is the only meal they have in the day.”
Masoom has a three-pronged approach to facilitate learning for night-school students:
1. Providing infrastructure like computers, science labs, maths kits, library books, notebooks, educational charts, workbooks and worksheets, teacher-training material, and audio-visual material;
2. Capacity building through training and workshops for teachers, parents and students, vocational guidance for students, counselling, extra-curricular classes for life-skills, yoga, meditation, etc;
3. Masoom works closely with all stakeholders and intends to act as an advocate for all issues concerning night schools.

Masoom began operations with a small grant of Rs60,000 from UnLtd—an organisation that funds start-up social entrepreneurs. “Their non-financial support was more valuable than the money: It gave us the opportunity to run our pilot and provide proof of concept for further funding,” says Nikita. EdelGive Foundation, a subsidiary of Edelweiss, provided the first major funding—Rs16 lakh—for starting off with two schools. Masoom now has grants from other foundations too, but, as Nikita says, they are lucky that most of their funding agencies also provide volunteers. Although Masoom has only 12 employees, it has 25 volunteers. So far, Masoom has been able to help some 650-700 students in 10 schools.
Masoom has innovated mobile labs for night-school students. Most municipal schools lack science lab facilities; hence, the question of providing them for night schools does not arise. “We were fortunate to have RR Sarode, an award-winning lab assistant in DS High School (Sion, Mumbai), who has converted a computer table on wheels into a science lab. Students of 8th to 10th  standards can now do important practicals. The lab is kept in the headmaster’s room. Generally, getting permission from municipal school authorities is a major hurdle. But we got a lot of support from Suman Shinde, an education inspector of municipal schools, who said we must develop these mobile labs for all the 10 schools,” says Nikita.

Masoom is a registered trust with Section 80G exemption and welcomes your involvement with money, materials or your time and skills. A chart on their website gives details of how your donations could support night schools.

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SC stays telecom tribunal’s order allowing hike in spectrum usage charge

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) order upholding a hike in second generation (2G) telecom spectrum (radio waves) usage charges, but asked telecom firms Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, Idea and Bharti Hexacom to deposit with it 50% of the fee they would have otherwise had to pay.

Hearing an appeal filed by the GSM operators, a bench comprising Chief Justice Sarosh H Kapadia and judges K S Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar stayed the telecom tribunal's order of 1 September 2010 which upheld the telecom ministry's decision to increase 2G spectrum usage charges. "Looking into the complexity of the matter and the stakes involved... we stay the impugned order passed by the tribunal," the court said.

It, however, directed Vodafone, Bharti Airtel, Bharti Hexacom (operating in Rajasthan) and Idea Cellular to deposit 50% of the proposed increase in fees with the Supreme Court registry within two weeks. It also asked the companies to furnish a bank guarantee for the rest of the 50% liability, PTI reports.

Telecom service providers have to pay a percentage of their adjusted gross revenue (AGR) to the government as spectrum usage charge. The charges vary between 3% and 8%, depending on the quantum of airwaves held by the respective operators.

According to the new levy, an operator holding spectrum up to 4.4 Mhz will have to pay 3% of the AGR compared to the existing 2%. Vodafone is required to pay Rs135 crore and the two Bharti companies have a joint liability of Rs220 crore on this account.

The court also directed that the managing director of each operator will file an affidavit before the court that in the event that their civil appeal is dismissed, the amount (deposited with the court) would be paid to the government. Warning the operators, the court said, "We make it clear if there is any breach of the impugned order that the effect of the interim order would cease."

On 1 September 2010, the TDSAT held that the decision to enhance the spectrum usage charges was taken by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) after following the proper consultation from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and mandatory approval from the Telecom Commission and the Group of Ministers.

Challenging the TDSAT order, the operators said that the tribunal had ignored the fact that the TRAI's recommendation was "without any effective and timely consultation process" and violated the TRAI Act. "An expert committee has been set up by DoT to go into all issues relating to spectrum, including its pricing. The expert committee had contradicted the recommendations of TRAI," the operators said.

They also said that TRAI, in its recommendation on 11 May 2010, had disagreed with the enhanced 2G spectrum usage charges fixed by DoT. "TDSAT upheld the impugned order of 25 February 2010 and dismissed the petition filed by operators, primarily testing it from the point of view of the procedure followed by DoT. However, ignoring the vital facts clearly demonstrated no application of mind, breach of mandatory procedures and arbitrariness, discrimination and unilateralism," the operators said.
 

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