900 students can now go back to school

Around 900 students of Gokhale Rahalkar High School in Ambernath (East), and their respective teachers will finally get back to class after studying on the roads and under trees for almost a week, as a pending loan prompted a bank to seal the premises.

Gokhale Rahalkar High School in Ambernath
Paying with dedication:  A teacher writes on a blackboard tied to a window grill outside Gokhale Rahalkar High School in Ambernath (East), as students crane their necks to get a look . Pic/Navneet Barhate

The Oriental Bank of Commerce, Ulhasnagar branch, had sealed the primary and secondary school set up in 1949 by Shishu Vikas Sanstha, after the institution failed to repay a Rs 7 lakh loan taken in 1999 for construction of a new school building. Over the years, the due amount had grown to Rs 32 lakh along with interest, following which the bank took possession of the building on November 12.

A PIL was filed in the High Court, which directed the bank to give back possession of the school to the organisation, but only after management agreed to repay half the due amount and gave assurance that the balance would also be paid.

“On July 19, we received a notice about the loan and wrote to the bank stating that we would pay Rs 10 lakh initially, but we did not receive any reply. Though we had taken a loan of Rs 7 lakh in 1999, the amount has gone up to Rs 32 lakh as the interest kept adding on,” said Sagun Bhadamkar, president of the Gokhale Rahalkar School.

On August 30, the school received another letter from the bank asking for a one-time settlement. “The bank told us that they had sold the property and sealed it on November 12. The school was closed for the Diwali vacations at that time,” Bhadamkar said.

When the school reopened after the Diwali vacation on November 26, the students were forced to sit on the roads outside the school and under trees on the premises to study.

“Besides studying in the open and on the roads amidst constant honking and noise from vehicles, students were forced to walk to a public toilet around a kilometre away as the toilets in the school were sealed. We filed a PIL in the High Court regarding the bleak future of the students,” said Shailesh Shirkhe, a former student of the school.

The teachers refused to let the bare necessities affect them while teaching, though the worry of losing their jobs loomed large.

Bhadamkar said that after approaching the court, he was hopeful of opening the school today. He added that the school does not get any grants or help from the state government and of the 900 students studying here, 500 are from the economically backward class. “The daily expense of running the school is around Rs 2,000 and it is very difficult to manage, but the trust has been helping us,” he said.

“The High Court has taken the PIL seriously and heard the case on priority-basis. We informed the court that we were prepared to repay half the amount at this time. Hopefully, the school will be opened by Wednesday,” Bhadamkar said.

Maharashtra Navnirman Sena corporator, Swapnil Bagul from Ambernath said that he is happy with the court’s directive, but happier that the students will be able to go back to their classrooms.

When a call was made to the Oriental Bank of Commerce, Ulhasnagar branch, a staff member conveyed that the manager did not wish to comment on the matter. 

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