Almost every week day, three teachers and 60 students gather on the banks of River Teesta in Mouamari, a village of around 100 families in West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district. The students are keen to learn, the teachers are enthusiastic, and yet there’s something crucial that’s missing — their school.
It’s been four months since the Premgunj Majhiyali Primary School was washed away by the swollen river, and the Education Department has still not put up at least a temporary shade under which classes can be held in the state government-run institution.
The teachers and students, however, have simply refused to give up: classes continue in batches on the river bank under the open sky, with the wary teachers keeping one eye on children who stray too near the river. The school’s furniture — three plastic chairs and one wooden table — and other property such as a globe, maps and files have been given to a local resident for safe-keeping.
“We took up the matter with the Education Department and told them to at least arrange for a temporary shade. They have been saying that they are doing something but till today, that ‘something’ has never come,’’ Amal Kumar Ghosh, the teacher in charge of the 45-year-old school, told The Sunday Express.
It was just last week that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee visited the district as part of her monthly inspection of development work across the state. But the official response to this bizarre situation in the district’s Mal block has been bafflingly vague.
“I will not say anything about this. You talk to the authorities,’’ said Kirtiman Bandopadhyay, Inspector of Schools, Malbazaar South, under whose area of supervision this school falls.
Jyotirmoy Chaki, Sub-Divisional Officer, Malbazaar, said they were looking for land where the school could be set up again. “But I cannot understand why a temporary shade cannot be arranged. Why is the Inspector of Schools evading the question? We will definitely check on this,’’ Chaki said.
Pritha Sarkar, District Magistrate, Jalpaiguri said she was aware of the problem and was “looking into the matter”. “It is dangerous to build anything on the banks of the river. So we will have to rebuild the school somewhere else,’’ Sarkar said.
And so, the students continue sit on shabby, torn tarpaulin sheets provided by the panchayat samiti, which also provides drinking water from tubewells. As for using the toilet, the river’s always right there.
Yet, they keep coming, with Ghosh admitting that attendance also has something to do with the mid-day meals that are still provided with the help of the panchayat.
“The students are from families whom you can call the poorest of the poor. Their parents earn their living by working as labourers on other people’s fields. If the children come to school they get the mid-day meal and that is why, you see, nobody bunks classes here,” he said.
As Anjana Das, a Class IV student, admitted, “We come to school for two reasons: first, we get to study and second, we get to eat. Both are important.’’
But Ashim Kumar Roy, another teacher here, is a worried man. “There are 60 students and just three of us. You cannot keep an eye on the children always and you don’t know who is running to the river or who is going where. It is dangerous,’’ he said.