Mumbai: School being extended under guise of repairs, say trustees

Four of the nine trustees of the Arya Samaj property at Santacruz, allege structural changes are being carried out illegally to the AVM school building that could endanger the lives of students

Trouble is brewing amongst the trustees of the Arya Samaj over the ongoing repairs in their Mandir on Linking Road, Santacruz West. The property belonging to this trust also houses a Yoga centre, and the AVM school. The 141-year-old Samaj promotes values and practices based on the infallibility of the Vedas.

Secretary of the trust, Sangeet Sharma outside the school, where some trustees have put up banners saying the construction is illegal
Secretary of the trust, Sangeet Sharma outside the school, where some trustees have put up banners saying the construction is illegal

Four of the nine trustees of the Mandir, who claim to be the owners of the property, allege that the work in progress is not a mere cosmetic job, but in fact a major project for an unauthorised expansion of the school. They allege this involves major structural changes to the beams and columns, of their original ground- plus-one structure, which is over 62 years old, and which will be unable to take the extra load and probably collapse.

“Tonnes of marble, and iron railings are being transported to the top floors, where the work is going on, without our permission. There are 600 tiny tots enrolled in the school, which runs classes from nursery to Std II. We fear for their safety, so have lodged complaints with the authorities and also sought police intervention,” said Sangeet Sharma, general secretary of the trust, which has now put up black banners all around their building proclaiming that ‘illegal construction by AVM is endangering students’ lives’.

Cracks appear
Pointing towards the cracks in the columns in their ground floor yoga centre, which according to the complainants is bearing the burden of the entire building, Sharma further alleged that the irregularities were first noticed earlier last month and a complaint was officially lodged with the BMC, which issued a stop work notice on May 22 and April 1, 2016 (mid-day has the copies). The work stopped temporarily, but the four trustees claim this started with the same gusto within five days and has been going on ever since (mid-day has the complaint letter).

“The hall is a place of worship for us and its pillars go up to the second floor and partially into the third floor. They are being loaded with extra dead weight of an air-conditioning plant, new walls, granite and heavy steel structures on the terrace, by puncturing the existing load bearing beams,” complained Ramesh Arya, secretary of the trust.

He alleged that the trustees favouring the construction work were also the office bearers of the school and were putting their own gains before the safety of the students.

‘Permissions have been taken’
Rubbishing the allegations, Avinash Dutta, secretary of AVM school, said that all requisite permissions were taken and plans approved by the authorities concerned, before the work commenced, thus makingit completely legal. “We are only carrying out work to restore some walls, which are in bad shape and no way any structural changes which could endanger lives have been made,” he said.

He added, “There are three independent trusts, Arya Samaj Santacruz Trust, Arya Samaj and Arya Vidya Mandir Society. The Arya Vidya Mandir Society built the school building and has the rent-free licence in perpetuity for running a school. Over the past three to four weeks, certain members of the Arya Samaj Santacruz Trust and Arya Samaj have been causing hindrances and disruptions in completion of the work. They are spreading misinformation that it is illegal construction and maligning the Arya Vidya Mandir Society whereas there is no truth in it.”

Dutta said he was surprised why their own people were raising objections. “If the BMC has sent us a notice, we will answer it, in accordance with the law. Why should we be answerable to those who are not concerned?” he said

BMC speak
H-West ward Assistant Commissioner Sharad Ugade said that he would seek information from the departments concerned and get clarity on the matter.

BS Momle, assistant engineer, of the building and factory department, H-West, did not respond to mid-day’s calls and SMS.

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