Touts trailing students and parents, motorbikes occupying every corner, IIT aspirants with heavy bags crowding around stalls for snacks and chai, roads littered with pamphlets — this was the scene at Kalu Sarai, a prominent hub of over 30 coaching centres in South Delhi, until March. The pandemic hit just as coaching centres were to begin their new session. Four months on, the roads are deserted, coaching institutes, eateries, cyber cafes and libraries are shut, and pamphlets on the walls read ‘space available for rent’.
A small village facing IIT, Kalu Sarai was once home to those who migrated from Jaisalmer during the reign of Firoz Shah Tughlaq. The demography changed after Partition, when many left for Pakistan. Today, Muslim and Sikh communities in the village rent out space to PGs, coaching institutes and shops.
The first coaching institute in Kalu Sarai was set up in the 1990s. As students made it their base, several stationary and juice shops, eateries, and PGs mushroomed. In the last two decades, students from Delhi, Bihar, UP, Jharkhand, Haryana and MP have outnumbered locals — thousands arrive every year, with a dream to crack the IIT entrance.
At Narayana’s coaching institute, the wall is decorated with posters of students who have excelled. Now, only a guard and two officials sit inside. One of them, Anand Kumar, said, “Parents fear sending their children outside. The coaching industry is severely hit, with around 70% percent of the business down. Big ones like us are managing, but smaller ones won’t survive.”
Next to the institute is a three-floor building owned by Simran Jeet, which housed four coaching institutes. Now, it’s just the owners living on the top floor. “We ran institutes for foreign language and to prepare students for law and GMAT. These have wound up. Now, only an IAS coaching institute’s admin office, bank and a saloon remain,” Jeet said.
While around 10 institutes have shut their offices and classrooms permanently, many have told landlords they cannot pay rent anymore and might have to vacate.
Ijaj Khan, owner of a house that had three coaching institutes, said, “Two have closed. One is not even taking my calls for rent that is due.”
An official at another coaching institute said that with most classes being shifted online, institutes can save on paying rent. “But the online model is not very good for us. If we had 500 students earlier in a year, we have just 50 online,” he said.
FITJEE, one of the oldest coaching centres in the area, is empty. The lone guard said classes were being conducted online and inquiries can be made over the phone.
A teacher at another coaching centre said, “Several students now prefer getting physical coaching at their hometowns rather than going online, because subjects like science and math need a lot of interaction.”
With students gone and centres shut, book depots, eateries and juice shops have also been deprived of earnings. The only places doing business are chemists and kirana stores.
Suresh Singhal, who sold snacks and employed five workers, now works alone: “Students have gone, so have the helpers. I don’t have to pay rent so I am surviving.”
“More than 95% of students have left. During this time, we would be busy through the day, showing rooms and PGs. The whole stretch is empty now,” said property dealer Suheb Chaudhry.
Vishwas, a broker, said rooms that were available for Rs 8,000 a month are now available for Rs 6,000, and still have no takers.
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