22 years after getting plot, trust still hasn't built school

May 07, 2014, 09:35 IST | Shailesh Bhatia

The BMC handed over a prime piece of land in Bandra (West) in 1992 to one Bombay Educational Trust, to get a municipal school constructed; the plot today lies vacant and uncared for

In what has turned out to be a slap in the face for directives of the Right To Education Act, an open reserved plot in a prime area of the city where a municipal school was to be developed still lies vacant and forgotten.

Aftab Siddique, chairperson of a local residents’ body, filed the RTI application
Aftab Siddique, chairperson of a local residents’ body, filed the RTI application

In 1992, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) handed over a plot admeasuring 1,751.66 square metre off Linking Road, Bandra (West) to one Bombay Educational Trust (BET).

According to a builder, the plot could be worth as much as Rs 175.1 crore. The name of the trust painted on tin sheets enclosing the plot; no office bearers or members of the trust could be traced
According to a builder, the plot could be worth as much as Rs 175.1 crore. The name of the trust painted on tin sheets enclosing the plot; no office bearers or members of the trust could be traced

The trust was supposed to construct a municipal primary and secondary school, or a school for the physically challenged. Twenty-two years later, nothing but grass and shrubs populate the land.

Originally belonging to the state government, the plot was later handed over to the civic body, which decided to give responsibility of the project to BET.

The information came to the fore after a local activist filed several Right To Information (RTI) applications since the end of last year. Among the documents sent as a reply (dated January) to these applications was a letter issued by the BMC (mid-day has a copy).

The details
Dated July 15, 1992, the letter states that the open reserved plot shall be leased to the BET for a sum of R1.7 lakh per annum and a security deposit of R3.5 lakh. The letter categorically states that the deadline for completion of the project is two years. This means the school should have been operational for 10 years today.

The letter ironically states that considering the number of students enrolling in municipal schools was on the decline, there was no need for a new municipal school building in the area. Yet, it goes on to seek a sanction for the project from the Education and Improvement Committee.

It adds that the trust would be granted a rent-free period of four years from the date of handing over possession of the plot, and thereafter, a half-rent period of two years. In the event that the education trust to which the plot is allotted is unable to develop the land, the plot will be have to be surrendered back to the corporation. It cannot be transferred to another body.

Aftab Siddique, local activist and chairperson of the 33rd Road Khar ALM-144, who obtained the documents under the RTI, alleged it was high time the civic authorities took the matter seriously and reclaimed the vacant land for constructing the school.

“We are in constant touch with the corporation, pressing upon them that there is an urgent need to start a school for autistic children. Keeping in mind the high cost incurred for educating such children in private special schools, we have proposed that a free counselling centre for such children and their parents would be a great asset.

Some extra area could also be allocated for transit boarding for outstation parents, who can ill-afford accommodation in the city,” she said. Siddique produced other BMC documents, dated April 24, 2012, which directed authorities to initiate action and submit a report on the issue by the end of January, 2013.

“We have reasons to believe that this is a classic case of politicians eyeing reserved municipal spaces and charging huge amount of fees for studies by building colleges, while the civic authorities turn a blind eye,” alleged Siddique.

A local builder, on condition of anonymity, said that the going rate for land in the area was up to R10 lakh per square metre. This means the land value could go up to a whopping R175.1 crore.

Another document has handwritten observations of the Education Officer, stating that the BET, by not completing the project within the stipulated time limit of two years, had breached the lease conditions (mid-day has copies of both documents).

No children, only overgrowth
This reporter’s visit to the site revealed that only grass, shrubs and withered flowers are present on the site. The plot has been cordoned off with tin sheets on all sides and the footpath outside has been taken over by vegetable vendors.

Apart from the fading name of the Bombay Education Trust, which was painted on the gate, the site had no board proclaiming any details about the trust.

A web search on the trust reveals it was registered with the Charities Commission, with an address at 47 Saraswati Sadan, Bhulabhai Desai Road (better known as Breach Candy or Warden Road), as per official documents. No office bearers could be traced.

Empty municipal school
On July 14 2013, this paper had reported how another municipal school, a few kilometres from the above vacant plot, has been unoccupied for over nine years. The school was constructed to provide free education to 500 economically-backward children from the area.

But the nameless six-storey government school near Pali Naka in Bandra (West) is yet to see a single student despite the BMC issuing an Occupation Certificate (OC) for the building to the developer in 2005. No one quite knows the reason why the school never opened its doors to any children.

BMC speak
When contacted, BMC Education Officer Shambhavi Jogi said she would be instructing the concerned department to revert with details of the case. BMC’s Education Committee chairman Vinod Shelar asked this reporter to mail him details of the case. “I am currently unaware of this case.

Once I study the matter, I will take appropriate action against the erring trust,” he said. Additional Municipal Commissioner (Education Committee) Mohan Adtani did not respond to the calls made to him.

Rs 3.5 lakh
The security deposit the BET was supposed to pay the BMC for the aforementioned plot.

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