New Delhi: Retired government employees may soon start teaching millions of illiterate adults, after public sector enterprises (PSEs) accepted a proposal by the human resource development (HRD) ministry to join a drive to improve India’s literacy rate.

Reforming India: A file photo of Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal. Sunil Saxena / HT

HRD minister Kapil Sibal met representatives of more than 40 PSEs, including banks, on Wednesday to garner their support for the Saakshar Bharat (Literate India) programme. The scheme aims to educate 70 million illiterate adults, including 60 million women, by 2012. If successful, it will raise the country’s literacy rate to 80% from 64.5%.

“Your retired staff can be volunteer teachers for Saakshar Bharat and you can build adult education centres in rural areas," Sibal told the PSE representatives.

PSEs such as Oil and Natural Gas Corp. Ltd, GAIL (India) Ltd, Steel Authority of India Ltd, Oriental Bank of Commerce, Punjab National Bank, National Bicycle Corp. of India and Shipping Corp. of India Ltd said they are open to the idea.

“There are 242 PSEs under (the) Central government and at least 16 lakh (1.6 million) employees are working in these institutions. Nearly 10% of them retire every year," said U.D. Choubey, director general of the standing conference of public enterprises (SCOPE), the apex body of PSEs.

Choubey said SCOPE will soon present a road map to the ministry on how to execute the scheme.

India faces a shortage of 1.2 million teachers to implement the Right to Education Act, which promises compulsory education to all children of 6-14 years. The government also needs 400,000 teachers to educate illiterate adults.

The shortage is acute in rural areas. Choubey said PSEs, which are present in many remote villages, are ideal for teaching adults in those areas.

S.L. Raina, senior manager at GAIL, said spouses of current employees of the firm could also join the mission.

Saakshar Bharat was launched in September, but became operational only two months ago in 167 districts across 19 states. It aims to cover 365 districts.

The programme needs Rs6,000 crore, but ministry officials said it faces a crunch. At the meeting with PSEs, school education secretary Anshu Vaish asked them to also consider “direct financial support" for Saakshar Bharat.

Bhaskar Chatterjee, secretary at the department of public sector enterprises, said he would put forward an action plan within two weeks on how PSEs could help the scheme as part of their corporate social responsibility plan.