Nearly a month after Sunday Mid Day exposed how a nameless six-storey government school, which was constructed with the intention to provide free education to 500 economically-backward children from near Pali Naka in Bandra (W), has been lying vacant for over eight years, the concerned authorities seem to have finally woken up from slumber. The school, built on a prime 1,100 square-metre plot at Pali Hill, had never opened its doors to students. Its compound had been doubling up as a warehouse and dumping ground, with a tea stall owner making himself comfortable on the ground floor.
Furthermore, a multi-storeyed structure that 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. Asif Zakaria, municipal councillor from Bandra (W), who had earlier described the apathy as a classic case of lack of coordination between different government agencies, informed that it had been decided that the school would be formally handed over to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), by the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) on September 21 and start enrolling students soon after. Zakaria had earlier sent letters to both SRA and BMC, along with a clipping of the article.
Zakaria also revealed that despite the fact that the BMC had handed over the Occupation Certificate (OC) for the building to the developer in 2005, the school was a guarded secret, known only to a few insiders. Little wonder then, that when our photographer clicked a few pictures of the school, he was accosted by local thugs. They demanded him to delete the photographs and roughed him up.
“It was only after reading the Sunday Mid Day cover story, (dated July 14, 2013) that I became aware of the situation. Subsequently, Minister of Parliament (MP) Priya Dutt Roncon and I wrote to Mohan Adtani, additional municipal commissioner (copy available with SMD) and also met up with Pramod Bangale, executive engineer BMC, who is on deputation with SRA, asking them to intervene and take quick action,” said Zakaria.
Roncon, who also discussed the issue with officials from BMC, including the Commissioner, informed that after the formal handover, the repair work and clearing the premises of illegal encroachments would be initiated on a war-footing. “Once ready, the BMC has a choice of either running it independently or seek help from NGOs, who work in the field of education,” she said. Confirming the news, Adtani stated that all the paperwork had been taken care of and the school would be henceforth utilised for the purpose it was built for. “We will take charge of the school on July 21, after a joint site visit with SRA officials and ensure that there are no further hurdles,” he said.
Bangale informed that the joint inspection would also include personnel from the local H-west ward. “We will scrutinise the state of affairs inside the building, which has remained locked for so many years. All repairs will have to be taken care of by the developer of the project Shivneri Co-Op Housing Society Ltd. Once things are found in order, the school will be directly handed over to BMC, for full operation, without any further delay,”
lawrence Fernandes, who was instrumental in obtaining the fact files on the vacant school under Right To Information, described the handover which would eventually lead to the opening of the school as a positive step. “Thanks to RTI, we were able to get the relevant papers, which exposed the apathy of the system towards the much-hyped Right to Education (RTE)”. Bandra resident Daphne Warpen, another RTI activist, who perused the school matter with concerned government departments, too, welcomed the initiative which will go a long way in promoting education for under privileged children, whose parents cannot afford to send them to private schools.