For as little as Rs 21,000 a day, a playground in Delhi Cantonment’s Sadar Bazaar can be booked for weddings and religious functions. The only catch: the area is actually meant for the Sanatan Dharam Mandir School. On June 21 this year, the Directorate of Education (DoE) took over the management of the government-aided school, which has been functioning since the 1960s, for three years.
The matter came to light when Brigadier Pradeep Upmanyu, a resident of Sadar Bazaar and Joint Registrar at Guru Gobind Singh IP University, submitted a written complaint to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in November 2015. Upmanyu had previously written to various authorities since 2005, when the banquet hall was allegedly built. Other complaints include shops being set up on school land.
In his complaint dated November 10, 2015, he wrote, “The Delhi Cantonment Board had given the land on lease to the Sanatan Dharam Mandir Sabha society to run the school and construct a temple. The lease… has already expired and the said lease has not been renewed till date.”
“The playground of the school… has been converted into banquet halls, which are further sublet/rented out on commercial basis to caterers for holding personal parties. The said constructions have been carried out without approval of the Cantonment Board… and DoE,” he wrote.
N C Sharma, a resident of the area, told The Indian Express that he had paid Rs 63,000 for three days to rent the hall for a religious function.
The June 21 order, signed by then Director of Education Saumya Gupta said, “The land allotted to school/society has been converted into commercial units, shops and houses have been built around the school premises… Land available for playground has been cemented and is being used for wedding function/commercial activities. Toilets for students are in a dilapidated and unhygienic condition, causing danger to the health of the children, and the furniture/almirah, etc are broken”.
The order also said that a five-member committee conducted an inspection in 2016, but the school manager “bluntly refused to produce any document relating to the land; educational qualification of members of the managing committee; accounts of society etc”, and “abruptly left”.
However, both the manager and the principal denied the charges.
Rajesh Goel, manager as well as the BJP district general secretary, said, “It’s not true that I ran away during inspection, I was present… no shops have come up in the school premises… the area was never a playground.”