An innocuous-looking institute of elementary and secondary education for lesser-privileged children in Andheri (East) has turned into a voracious commercial centre, where authorities demand cash from parents at will, and humiliate their children if they question the big asks.
A secret school: Nityanand municipal school in Andheri houses Varun International, run by a private trust. Pic/ Nimesh Dave
Nityanand municipal school, supposed to impart free education to disadvantaged children, houses a privately-run entity called Varun International with up to 400 students from preprimary to Std VII within its premises. Their parents, most of whom have modest means, allege that they are forced to cough up Rs 5,000 each year as education fee, for which no receipts are issued, other than the sundry cash demands for Diwali, picnic, uniform etc.
Sanjay Gaike, a parent who started a signature campaign against the school two years ago, said that children whose families could not afford to pay the money were publicly shamed and threatened that they’d be debarred from giving exams. “Because of these high-handed tactics, nearly 250 students dropped out of the school last year,” he alleged.
Gaike said the parents would gladly record their statements in front of an investigating agency, provided their children’s scholastics are safe.
mid-day has copies of complaints by over 60 parents, with stamped acknowledgement by the school. When we visited Varun International, run by Patel Education Trust, we found that there is no banner or board announcing the institute.
Civic officers said the trust pays a monthly rent of Rs 1,000 for the preprimary classrooms, and zilch for the rest.
Education officer Mansi Apte said that the trust took the premises on rent from BMC years ago. “Initially, they got permission to run an English- medium support school till Std IV. But over time, they extended till Std VII as a private school and took over 16 classrooms,” said Apte.
The school bully
Manisha Panchal, the local councillor, insisted that action be taken against the erring trustees. “The school was doing a credible job but they started charging money without issuing receipts, which is illegal and amounts to blackmailing. Based on complaints from parents about the malpractice, I tried reaching out to trustee Pramod Patel, but he refuses to take my calls, nor does he come to the school,” she said.
An education official said, “It’s happened that students from the civic school were not allowed to use computer labs. And BMC officers who rake up the issue are often transferred.”
Dr Suresh Shetty, state health minister and MLA from Andheri (East), expressed his surprise at the state of affairs, saying, “Such a thing can only happen if higher authorities are involved. I will call for all the papers from the BMC ward office and unearth the facts.”
Manoj Kotak, chairman of BMC’s education committee, urged the parents to forward their complaints, assuring that their students’ academic interests will remain safe. “Strict action will be taken if any violations are found.”
Aunt of two Std III girls
Last week, my two nieces (Taro Bera and Nilima Das) studying in Std III came home crying, complaining that they were humiliated so badly in front of their friends for not paying the cash that they are now ashamed to go to school.
Mother of Mansi (Std III)
and Niyati (Std II)
We are forced to shell out extra money for books and uniform, which is against BMC norms.
Mother of Anuj (Std III)
The school management threatened to file a police case against me and debar my son from final exams if I didn’t pay. I paid R500 for the uniform and they wrote the details on a piece of paper, without any stamp, when I insisted on a receipt.
Mother of Suraj (Std I)
Apart from R5,000, the school demanded that the parents pay R500 per child for a resort picnic in Dahisar, irrespective of whether they wanted to send their children.
Mother of Sonam (Std I) and Suraj (Std II)
I was threatened that my two sons son would not be allowed to sit for the exam, so I had no choice but to pay Rs 10,000 rupees last Diwali, for which no receipt was issued.
Trustee Pramod Patel denied that they were demanding money from parents. “We are giving free education to students whose families cannot afford private schools.”
Principal Sonali Khatar said, “We are offering education of superior calibre as compared to any BMC school and all the amenities are offered free of cost.” Khatar said they were only collecting a minimum fee for the preprimary section, which was as per the BMC agreement and for which receipts are issued. “No money is charged from students from Std I onwards,” she said.