Nine hundred and thirty students of Holy Cross School on Juhu Tara Road, have not celebrated their annual sports day for well over a year now. The reason? The school does not have a ground of its own and while some neighbouring schools that have their own grounds say the arena is booked for the next one month for weddings and parties, others are demanding exorbitant rates.
“We normally schedule sports day on a weekend, between November and December, when the weather is cooler. This also means the students don’t miss out on studies. This year we have been trying to get hold of an open space for the event for months now, but in vain,” complained Father Edmund Mascarenhas, the school Principal.
The ground usually booked by the school, he said, has been rented out for private functions almost on all weekends for the past two months. “We cater to the educational needs of students hailing from middle and lower-income groups. Hiring a private playground costs nothing about Rs 30,000 per day along with additional formalities like hiring an ambulance, providing for police presence and taking permissions from the fire brigade,” the principal said.
Local activist and a member of the Church Parish, Larson Fernandes, however, said the school owned an open plot measuring 90,912 sqft right next to the building walls. But the field has been encroached upon by illegal shanties and vendors. In 1997, the collector wrote to the school asking if they were interested in getting the ground back. The school authorities promptly answered in the affirmative (SMD has a copy of the letter), but 16 years later, nothing has changed.
“I hope the municipal authorities step in soon. The playground can be utilised by the students during school hours and opened to the public in the evenings. As of now, children in the area have to wait for low tide, if they want to play on the beach. Imagine the risk they run just to play a few games,” said Larson, producing copies obtained under RTI, which point towards inaction by the local tahisildar.
Member of Parliament, Mumbai North West, Gurudas Kamat, said he was aware of the encroachment and the difficulties faced by the school. “It is a beautiful spot by the beach, which ought to be used as a playground for the children. I have sent my recommendations to the concerned authorities and am hopeful that the government takes some quick decision in the matter.” The post of Andheri tahilisdar is currently vacant, as fresh postings are awaited.