Eight years after it was constructed to provide free education to 500 economically-backward children from the area, a nameless six-storey government school near Pali Naka in Bandra (W) is yet to see a single student - despite the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) handing over the Occupation Certificate (OC) for the building to the developer in 2005. No one quite knows the reason why the school never opened its doors to children.
Yet, a multi-storeyed structure the developer built using the extra Floor Space Index (FSI) given to him by the government in return for constructing a school, has already been sold out and occupied. When SUNDAY MiD DAY went snooping, it found the school compound doubling up as a warehouse and dumping ground, with a tea stall owner making himself comfortable on the ground floor of the building. When our photographer clicked a few pictures of the school, he was accosted by local thugs. They demanded he delete the photographs and roughed him up.
Documents available with SUNDAY MiD DAY show that all concerned government authorities were fully aware of the goings-on in the school building. Several letters were written by both BMC and state Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) officials to the architect and developer of the project - Shivneri Co Op Housing Society Ltd - to look in to the matter and act accordingly.
In a letter dated October 21, 2008, the developer assured BMCs Administrative Office (education Wing), H West that the list of discrepancies pointed out by the latter, was being taken care of and would be completed within a week. The letter even discusses the size of blackboards, which have to be put up in the classrooms, before the next academic year. Producing the official Development Plan (DP) of the area, that he obtained after filing an RTI application, local resident and activist Lawrence Fernandes, said the plan clearly shows an area earmarked for a public school in a space spread over 1,103 square metres.
“An RTI response from the MCGM dated June 13, 2012, admits to 12 teething problems at the school premises, including encroachment by a tea stall owner and a mandapwalla (pandal supplier), who are using the premises for commercial purposes. It also confirms that the building has developed cracks, has open electric wires, broken toilet seats and other issues,” Fernandes told SMD. Daphne Warpen, another RTI activist who too lives in Bandra, said it was apparent that the much-hyped Right to Education (RTE) Act for the economically challenged was not high on the government’s agenda.
“Government guidelines and agreements clearly state that the school shall be constructed by the owner or developer at his own cost, according to the size, design, specification and conditions prescribed by the Municipal Commissioner and that the remaining FSI can be utilised by him for sale in the open market or accommodate original residents. But while the residential buildings built on the additional land are all occupied today, the school for boys and girls of Bandra was a non-starter,” she said.
Future in doubt
SMD has in its possession a letter dated 14 May 1999, written by the developer of the building, to the state housing minister, where he states his inability to comply with the regulations and requests for revision of some clauses.
The letter, also obtained under RTI, states that building a school for 500 children is not possible at the spot, since the area is barely 1100 square metres. This, the developer argues, is a space large enough for only 244 children, if 30 per cent space is to be left for bulding residential premises. But forget 244, there are no children, or teachers in the school!
When contacted, Chandrashekhar, an architect for Shivneri Co Op Housing Society Ltd, whose name appears in the RTI response, stated that he was not happy with the way the developer, one Mahendrabhai, worked. After designing the project but before commencement of the same, he withdrew from the project. “I do not know the fate of the school after that,” he said.
Speaking to SMD, Deputy Municipal Commissioner (Education) Sunil Dhamne, whose predecessor C Rokde had written the letters to the developers, said he had already asked the concerned colleagues to give him details of the long awaited school project. “Give us some time. We will ensure that the developer complies with the norms and hands over the school to the BMC at the earliest, so that admission of students can be initiated,” he said.
NB Futane, Assistant Engineer SRA, when contacted, said he would scrutinise the relevant files and respond. Asif Zakaria, the councillor from Bandra (W) said it was a classic case of lack of coordination between different government agencies. “We have so many people from the private sector who want to run municipal schools, but can’t do so due to lack of space and opportunities. It is only fair that the building be put to proper use,” he said.
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