Empowering schools and school management committees (SMCs): Unpacking decision-making in India’s schools.

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Posted on:07-05-12

Gayatri Sahgal, Accountability Initiative

Since the early 1990’s School Based Management (SBM) has gained increasing popularity as a strategy for improving responsiveness and accountability in the delivery of education services. As a form of decentralization, the SBM approach involves the transfer of decision making authority over school operations to local agents (2). One of the principle function’s which is delegated to local agents is the responsibility for managing the school’s finances. In several countries, including Brazil, Nepal, Mexico, and Czech Republic, authority is devolved to school based committees who are given varying levels of financial autonomy for 1) determining school needs, 2) preparing budgets and plans, and 3) procuring items and incurring expenditure for meeting such needs (3). 

In India as well, the involvement of community members in school functioning has been institutionalized under the Right to Education (RTE) (4) Act 2010 (5). Under the RTE, School Management Committee’s (SMCs) are required to be constituted in every government owned/run elementary school in the country. Consisting primarily of teachers, parents/guardians and members of the community, SMCs are empowered with the responsibility of monitoring school functioning and managing its finances. 

In practice, SMCs have complete financial power over three annual grants (Teacher learning Material or TLM, School Development Grant or SDG, and School Maintenance Grant or SMG). These mount to approximately 6% of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) budget (SSA is the programmatic vehicle for implementing RTE).  In addition, the SMCs have some powers over decision making on other monies that arrive in schools including infrastructure funds. To facilitate grant utilization, SMCs are expected to follow the norms laid down in SSA framework (6) and the procurement policies enshrined in the Revised Manual on Financial Management and Procurement for SSA (7). The combination of these two policies determines the extent of financial autonomy enjoyed by the SMCs especially with regard to their ability to meet school needs and requirements. 

How do these norms play out in practice? To what extent do these norms enable SMCs to take decisions for schools? Drawing on the procurement policies for SMCs, this article attempts to answer these questions. To examine how SMCs work in practice, this article reports on findings of a micro study undertaken in Khaitrabad Mandal, Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh. 

Unpacking procurement policies

Central level Guidelines

Levels of Procurement: The Revised Manual on Financial Management and Procurement for SSA assigns the SMC responsibility for procuring items to meet the recurring needs of the school. This includes:

  • Procurement of goods for the up gradation, repair and maintenance of the school,
  • Utilization of the school grant, teaching learning equipment, KGBV and NPEGEL activities (8).

Procurement of other items which may be required by the school is assigned to the district level. This includes textbooks, learning enhancement aids, requirements for disabled children. The rationale is that many of these items can be purchased in bulk and thus ought to be procured centrally, by the district education administration.

Method of Procurement: According to the rules, items purchased at the school level are to be purchased on the basis of a limited tender system i.e. by comparing price quotations obtained from several suppliers, usually three to ensure competitive prices. Limited tender enquiries are issued to those firms which are on the list of approved contracts. For the construction of school based infrastructure the Manual makes it mandatory for procurement to be done with the participation of the community, usually through the SMC. The specific role for the SMC includes: a) carrying out the work directly and organizing labour and b) procuring material.

The procurement policies in the Manual are only indicative and subject to a) procurement policies of the State government or the Panchayati Raj Institutions for the procurement of civil works, goods and services under SSA, b) policies of the State Implementing Society (SIS) recommending the powers of procurement to districts and sub districts. Thus for defining the levels of procurement at the state level, the Manual suggests that States develop a Procurement Plan. The Procurement plan is to be made on an annual basis within one month of the approval of the Annual Work Plan (9).

State level Guidelines

AP Procurement Plan: The Procurement Plan for 2010-11 (10) defines the method of procurement, the quantity of items to be procured and their estimated cost. In addition, the procurement plan specifies the month by which procurement processes ought to be completed.

The Plan, however, does not provide a clear understanding of the role of the SMC in procurement. This is primarily for two reasons; 1) while the Plan defines the method of procurement it does not specify the level at which procurement is required to be undertaken, 2) the Plan provides details based on item wise procurement and not on basis of grant amounts, as is done in other states. For instance, the Rajasthan plan assigns specific responsibility to the SMC for procuring items under the three annual grants (11).

The section on infrastructure (civil works) provides some guidelines for SMCs. Accordingly, the SMC is required to follow a method of procurement which includes; 1) preparation of specifications and bid documents, 2) issue of invitation for bids, 2) evaluation of bids, 4) reward of contract to the bidder with the lowest price. Once the contract is awarded, the Plan specifies a four month period during which works are required to be completed. For instance, for the construction of toilet facilities; contracts are required to be awarded by August and work is slotted for completion within a four month period (September to December).

Utilisation Guidelines 

For the annual grants, item-wise utilization details have been issued by the SSA District Office (District Programme Officer). Details are as follows:


Table 1: Utilisation guidelines for annual grants

Teaching Learning Material

School Development Grant

School Maintenance Grant

50% of grant amount on
temporary material

Priority for internal wiring for 

Minor repairs of floor, roof,
compound wall, gate furniture

50% of grant amount on
permanent material

50% purchase of library books

Maintenance of toilet up to
a ceiling of  Rs 400

Xeroxing of question paper

Schools which have electricity supply may use it for; payment of electricity bill, procurement of trays for preserving SLIM cards, stationary, procurement of radio, repair of radio, purchase of TV.

Cost of electricity connection
 and meter charges.


 De-facto Financial Autonomy

To understand how these guidelines structure the SMCs capacity to meet their needs, we conducted a series of interviews with Acting Head Masters (HMs) in Khairtabad Mandal, Hyderabad city, Andhra Pradesh. Our conversations with HMs revealed the following:

From the HMs point of view, the SMC has real decision making autonomy, at least when it comes to the schools grants. Of course, it is important to note that this only indicates that the HM is taking decisions – the extent to which these decisions involve other SMC members is unknown. According to the HMs School needs and requirements dictated the manner in which school grants were to be utilized and primacy is given to needs determined by the school in the event that they did not correspond with the utilization guidelines. For instance, the acting HM of Government Primary School (GPS) Hanuman Stone Cutter, explained that they utilized a part of the school development grant for funding the travel cost for a class trip.

Despite such autonomy, interviews revealed several factors which limit the capacity of the school’s to procure items on the basis of their needs. These can be divided into constraints experienced in meeting recurring needs and those relating to civil work requirement.

Recurring needs

Additional guidelines issued by the administration mandating all schools to purchase specific items, thereby limiting the SMCs capacity to plan its expenses. For instance, in FY 2009-10 all schools in AP were asked to purchase a radio from the School Development Grant for the Interactive Radio Instruction Programme (Learning Enhancement Programme).

Financial norms which limit the capacity of the school to incur expenditure exceeding a specific amount. The guidelines place financial ceilings on expenditure to be incurred under specific items such as maintenance of toilet facility and the procurement of library books.

Civil work based need


Inadequate authority: while the procurement guideline define the SMC as the authority responsible for procurement of civil works, in practice the final sanctioning rests with the office of the District Programme Officer, which takes decisions based on a number of factors; District Information System for Education (DISE) estimates and applications submitted by HMs.


Delays in processing of sanctions: Schools that filed applications reported considerable delays in receiving approvals. For instance, the acting HM of GPS Mahatmanagar stated that she had sent a request to the Deputy Inspection Officer (DIO) for the construction of classrooms in December. However, two months later in February (when interviews were conducted) she had not received any information on the status of this request.


Implementing responsibility rests with District: HMs reported that the construction of civil works in Hyderabad is usually undertaken through the district office, that awards contracts to the tenders. Thus while SMCs are required to be involved in the construction of civil works according to the procurement plan, their actual involvement appears to be fairly limited.


Thus in considering several aspects of the procurement policies, we find that while central norms assign broad powers to the SMC to procure items and incur expenditure, the AP procurement Plan and Guidelines seeks to define these powers in more specific ways. The practical effect of such policies is then that while SMCs may have some authority to procure items to meet their needs; they do not enjoy complete autonomy. This has implications not only on the extent to which SMCs can be responsive to school needs but also on their capacity to develop school plans for meeting their requirements in a timely and efficient manner.


1. Gayatri Sahgal is a Research Analyst with Accountability Initiative, CPR

2. Local agents include a combination of principals, parents, teachers, students and other community members

3. Bruns, B., Filmer, D., and Patrinos, H. (2011) ‘Making Schools Work: New Evidence on Accountability Reform’, HumanDevelopment Perspectives, World Bank, Washington

4. RTE is implemented through the programmatic of Sarva shiksha Abhiyan (SSA)

5. Right to Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2010. Available at: http://www.delta.org.in/form/rte.pdf

6. Revised SSA Framework (2011). Available at: 


7. For more details see: 


8. Manual on Financial Management and Procurement, (2010), SSA, pp. 83.

9. Annual Work Plan and Budget is the primary planning and budgetary document under SSA.

10. For details see: http://ssa.ap.nic.in/Proce_schedule2010-11/Procurement%20plan%202010-11.pdf

11. For more details see: http://rajssa.nic.in/Circular/17.pdf

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