File pic of slums swallowing footpaths outside the school, forcing kids to walk on the road
As slums continue to gobble up footpaths in Khar, children can’t even get to school without getting hit by cars or falling cupboards. A 10-year-old girl was passing by the slums outside her school when a heavy wooden cupboard fell on top of her, injuring her severely. What’s worse, the slum dwellers then harassed her family for complaining to the authorities.
Prachi was nearly knocked unconscious by the cupboard and now has to wear a neck brace for the injury as her parents worry about her safety
For years, parents and teachers at St Elias High School have been complaining about the ever growing slums right on the pavement outside. Because of this encroachment, school kids are forced to walk on the roads, and quite a few have been hit by cars.
Injured and abused
It was to prevent such an accident that 10-year-old Prachi Walekar was instructed by her mother to stay close to the pavement, as they walked to school on Saturday. But as Prachi was walking by the footpath, a massive wooden cupboard fell on her right outside one of the slum dwellings. The cupboard caused serious injuries to Prachi’s neck and barely missed her younger brother, who is in Std I.
“All I was doing was protecting my two children from the traffic. Suddenly, there was a loud crash and I was horrified to see my daughter under a 6-ft wooden cupboard. I was in no state to respond and can only remember some passers-by lifting the cupboard off my child, who was in a semi-conscious state,” said Prachi’s mother, Prerna.
Prachi was taken to Bhabha hospital, where doctors diagnosed trauma to her spinal column. Prachi was forced to miss school on Monday, but yesterday, as she and her mother were walking towards the school, the slum dwellers gheraoed them and heckled them. A group of women from the slums hurled abuses at Prachi’s mother, expressing their anger that the family had complained to the BMC and police about the incident.
According to the school principal, this is the third time that a student has met with an accident because of the encroachment. In February, mid-day had reported how 2,000 students, parents and teachers took to the streets in a silent protest march over the encroachment, after which the assistant municipal commissioner in the area had assured immediate action. However, the situation remains much the same.
School principal, Father Milton, fears that accidents will continue to occur unless the authorities take appropriate action. “We have nothing personal against the slum dwellers and, if eligible, they ought to be given alternate housing or shifted elsewhere so that the children have a footpath to walk on,” he said.
mid-day visited the Walekar home in Juhu and found Prachi in extreme discomfort, forced to wear a neck brace. But apart from her injury, the family is also worried about her safety. “First the accident and then the verbal assault on my wife has left the entire family traumatised. How are my children supposed to go to school if the same thing continues?” he questioned.
Sharad Ughade, assistant municipal commissioner in H-West ward, said that razing the slums will be a challenge since some of the hutment dwellers have been residing at the spot for over 30 years. Just last week, they were offered alternate accommodation in Chembur, but they refused to shift. “The BMC team had visited the site for demolition on Tuesday, but had to postpone it owing to stiff resistance from the residents. However, we will take appropriate action in consideration of safety issues, especially keeping the school children in mind,” he said.
Students at St Elias High School