March 3, 2021 12:20:32 am
The fate of over 3,000 students of HA School in Pimpri could be in a limbo as relations between the school owners — Hindustan Antibiotics Limited (HAL) — and the school management, Deccan Education Society (DES), have suddenly gone sour.
Established in 1958, with two school buildings inaugurated by Lal Bahadur Shastri and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the government-aided school was established mainly to cater to children of HAL employees, in addition to those from low-income groups in the locality. It is among the handful of government-aided schools, sprawling over 2.5 acres, offering both English and Marathi mediums of education.
On January 21 this year, HAL company administration issued a tender expressing its willingness to outsource the school management to parties with good repute, with at least 10 years of experience in managing and administrating educational institutes. The company has assured that even if the management is replaced, the school will continue to remain an aided one.
“We will offer better education without changing the status of the school,” Managing Director of HAL, Nirja Saraf, told The Indian Express.
However, DES has termed the tender legally invalid. The lease document accessed by The Indian Express mentions that the DES will manage the school from June 7, 1965, for a period of 98 years. DES already runs a number of educational institutions, including Fergusson College, in the city.
In the latest meeting, held virtually on January 16 and presided by the School Advisory Committee – comprising members from both the company and the school management — the HAL administration sought from DES the school’s annual accounts and details of the other financial matters.
“DES has never shared the school’s annual accounts or other expenditures incurred at the school for the last 40 years. In the January 16 meeting, DES assured that the accounts will be shared within 15 days. Thereafter, we have sent three reminder emails, but are yet to hear back in this regard,” said Saraf, who took over as the company’s MD in 2016.
According to the lease agreement, DES has to pay the company an annual rent of Rs 26,500, which is subject to enhancement from time to time. This amount stands unrevised, till date. As it has the ownership of the school, HAL is supposed to bear the expenses required towards the maintenance and upkeep of the school building and other civil infrastructure on the school campus, as well as provide stationery and furniture needed for the school.
But post 1997, the DES administration claims that the company’s financial support towards the school dwindled and it faced several challenges in running the school’s operations in the following years. The school management claimed that it faced concerns such as poorly-maintained toilets, classrooms with leaking roofs and compromised safety of the school premises.
All of these made DES send a letter to HAL in May 2012, a part of which read – “DES does not want to continue the management of the pre-primary, primary and secondary school of HAL with effect on May 1, 2013.”
To this letter, HAL reverted in October 2013, agreeing and granting the permission for a change of school management from the HA Board. But it was agreed upon mutually that the DES was to continue till the company found a suitable management to run the school in the future.
Between 2013 and 2016, there were no further formal deliberations in this regard initiated by either party, as a result of which DES continued to manage the school.
“ HAL failed to adhere to the agreement clauses which mentions that the maintenance of the building and overall infrastructure remains the company’s responsibility. But giving most priority to the students, DES took it upon itself and carried out necessary repair works, partially using its own funds and rest generated through well-wishers and donations,” said Dhananjay Kulkarni, secretary of the DES, who was part of the virtual meet held on January 16.
Kulkarni shared that in recent years, DES has recieved approximately Rs 1.5 crore from the school’s alumni, well-wishers and Parent-Teachers Associations, as donations. But the HAL administration has cited this fund raising as a wrongful act.
“The company’s approval is needed before accepting any kind of donations given to the school. We have received complaints from parents in this regard. The same is applicable for taking up repair works planned on the premise,” said Saraf.
Despite facing stiff challenges, the DES office-bearers said they reconsidered their 2012 decision of discontinuing all associations with HAL, as it could affect the future of the students. The Society also faced the difficulty of reinstating the 100-odd HA School staff, including non-teaching ones, to other schools run by it in Pune and elsewhere in Maharashtra, sources said.
“We fully understand and are aware of the company’s financial condition. But our endeavour remains to run the school and offer best quality education. Issuing a tender was not the right move taken by the company when there is a 98-year-old valid lease,” said Sharad Kunte, chairman of the governing council of DES.
But for several parents, like D Bhosale, this tussle between the company and school management has brought on a host of worries.
“This is a one-of-its kind English medium school in the locality, which offers quality education without charging an exorbitant fees. But if there is another school management taking over, we fear that we will be forced to shell out higher fees, which will be unaffordable,” said Bhosale, who has also been a history teacher at the school for the last 32 years.
The process of accepting tenders stands completed for now and HAL will announce its decision within a month, informed company management.
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