What difference can a court petition make? A story of two government schools, separated by 40 km and joined by Uttarakhand High Court censure. Report and Photographs by KAVITA UPADHYAY
Government Primary School No. 25, Tibri, Haridwar
WITH the morning already promising a sweltering summer day, Shashi Amoli opens the school gate to make her way to three empty classrooms, with peeling cement and run over by mice. The name of the school is faintly decipherable from its letters that haven’t faded away.
Done shooing away the rats, Amoli aligns the green mats for the students to sit on. Revendra Kumar Singh, the assistant teacher in charge of the school, says he got a few of the mats from a local tent house, while others have been donated by locals.
Going room to room, Amoli switches on the solitary electric bulb in each, their light barely reaching the corners that are dark even at this early hour of 7.45 am — made darker by the moss that now covers many of the walls. The only other amenity in the rooms is a dust-laden fan. Then, she steps out, to fetch the students from their homes nearby.
“The parents here are mostly daily wage labourers. They don’t see much value in getting their children educated. It’s my job to fetch the students every day, else their parents would drag them to do some work and earn money,” Amoli says. She got the job after doing a Basic Training Certificate (BTC) course and joined as a teacher in March this year.
Amoli visits 10-15 homes in a radius of 300 metres, cajoling parents, chasing children. “Sometimes I send students to fetch others from their houses,” she says.
On June 22, when the Uttarakhand High Court barred the state government from buying luxury items till government-run schools across the state were furbished with basic amenities, it did so on an application by Lalit Miglani, who said he was “stunned” at the abysmal condition of this school, the Government Primary School No. 25 in Tibri, and the adjoining Sanjay Nagar Anganwadi Kendra. On June 30, the High Court gave the state government six months to get all government schools equipped with basic amenities, saying that failing this, Education Department officials would not get their salaries for January 2018.
Haridwar-based Miglani is a lawyer in the Uttarakhand HC. He says he had visited the Tibri school in February. “I was shocked there could be a school in such grave conditions right in the heart of the city,” he says.
Back at the school, 15 minutes after Amoli paid them a visit, the students start trickling in. Before they enter the classrooms around 8.15 am, they silently remove their slippers outside. The school has 85 students, 46 boys and 39 girls, from Classes 1 to 5, crowded into the three classrooms. Today about 60 are present. There are three teachers, including Revendra Singh, who also doubles up as the principal.
Ten of the children, of Classes 3 and 4, surround Amoli, who is correcting the homework she gave them. Meanwhile, the others, of both classes, recite loudly the nursery rhyme ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’, written on the small blackboard.
In the other classroom, teacher Preety Purohit takes a combined class of students of Standards 1, 2 and 5. Amoli and Purohit teach all the subjects, including English, Hindi, mathematics, science, music and sports. Naina, 10, who is in Class 5, says she doesn’t have much of a problem “sitting on the floor and studying”. But nine-year-olds Abhishek and Dipanshu, a standard junior, differ, having heard about or seen schools with tables and chairs for students.
A few steps away from the primary school is the Sanjay Nagar Anganwadi Kendra. Right at the entrance, where a wall sign reads “Yahan kooda phenkna mana hai (It is prohibited to throw garbage here)”, a pile of garbage lies rotting, covered in flies. Thirty-eight children between the ages of 3 and 6 are eating lunch inside, under the supervision of one teacher, Sangeeta Chauhan, and a helper.
There is a strong smell of urine from a room beside the anganwadi. “Men from the neighbourhood gather here in the evenings and get drunk. They also relieve themselves here,” says Chauhan, who earns Rs 6,000 a month. Amoli says she fights with her husband every day for having got her to Haridwar. “I come from Chamoli (in Uttarakhand’s Garhwal hills). There, the school I taught at was in a much better condition. We used to save the money we received from various state and Central schemes to buy furniture for the classrooms. But how am I to teach here?” she says angrily.
Revendra Singh, who has been here since 2014, and is now mostly caught up in administrative chores that leave her with hardly any time for teaching, disagrees. “What’s wrong with our school?” he argues. “I too studied sitting on the floor. Am I not doing well in life?”
Once the students have cleared Class 5, they can move to the Government Junior High School, located on the same campus. The high school, from Classes 6 to 8, is in no better condition. Students of Class 6 sit on mats spread across the floor of a lobby. Deepa Rani Agarwal, a BTC-qualified assistant teacher who has been in charge of the school for four years, says heavy seepage through the walls of the Class 6 room had rendered it useless, forcing her to shift the students to the lobby. “I got the lobby wall painted black to serve as a blackboard,” she says.
The four-room school has 73 students, 38 boys and 35 girls, and three teachers, including Agarwal. Recently, says Agarwal, their electricity was cut. “Our department has not paid its electricity bill for the past several months.” It was resumed after she pleaded with the authorities. The computer lab has three computers, all under covers. Agarwal says the machines haven’t worked for nearly six years. “The school in-charge before me sent several requests to the authorities to get the computers repaired, but nothing was done. I saw no point,” she says.
When the students come to school in the morning, the first thing they do is clean the premises of, among other things, disposable cups and broken bottles. There is no boundary wall, and the neighbourhood men often use the school grounds as a place to gather and drink, Agarwal says.
Neither the Tibri primary school nor the Junior High School has any cleaning staff. The teachers admit students help them keep the premises clean, including the toilets. Jile Singh, the father of 10-year-old Vanshu Singh who is a student of Class 2, says even children as young as Vanshu have to pitch in. “I’ve been thinking of getting my son admitted to some other school. Every day our children are made to clean the rooms of the school. In the monsoon season they are asked to remove vegetation from the school grounds,” Jile says.
Daily wage labourer Vinod Kashyap’s son Abhishek,10, is in Tibri primary school and daughter Muskan, 13, in the high school. “I don’t have to worry about the fees, but the quality of education is so bad that both my children depend on private tuitions,” Kashyap says.
He spends Rs 200 per month on tuitions for Abhishek, who is in Class 4, and takes tuitions for all the subjects, including English, mathematics, Hindi and science. Muskan, who is in Class 7, also takes tuitions for all her subjects, including English, Hindi, science, geography, history and mathematics, costing Kashyap another Rs 300 monthly.
After the recent High Court order asking the state government to furnish the schools with basic amenities, Deepa Rani Agarwal and Revendra Singh have asked the local education officer to provide them adequate benches and chairs for their students.
R D Sharma, Chief Education Officer of Haridwar district, says, “We have already finalised the budgetary requirements needed to furnish the schools with basic amenities, including furniture, water purifiers, and toilets. We have sent the budget to the government. Also, Haridwar, being an industrial area, has many industries that could divert their Corporate Social Responsibility funds for schools. We are in talks with several such industries.”
However, speaking to The Sunday Express, Uttarakhand Secretary (Finance) Amit Negi admits that meeting the court conditions won’t be easy. The state government “does not have Rs 900 crore that the Education Department needs” for maintenance of Uttarakhand’s 12,533 government primary schools, 2,809 upper primary schools, 2,203 secondary schools, four government-aided primary schools, 184 upper primary schools, and 301 secondary schools, he says.
Secretary (Education) Chandra Shekhar Bhatt says, “The Education Department is yet to decide on the steps to be taken, and the money needed to implement the court order.” For now, School Education Minister Arvind Pandey has a short-term solution: stay away from school for the rains.
With another monsoon pounding down on the students at Tibri, and at other government schools running from similar buildings, he tells The Sunday Express, “I have asked the people of the state, especially the parents whose children attend government schools, to give us a year’s time to get the schools renovated. The students must not risk their lives by attending the schools that could collapse any time.”
Government Intermediate College, Dudhli, Dehradun
And yet, the Tibri story could have another ending — government willing. In the application he moved, “shocked” over the condition of the Tibri primary school and the adjoining anganwadi, Lalit Miglani noted that an Uttarakhand High Court order of November 2016 on government and government-aided schools in the state had not been met.
The order had directed that the state provide its schools “benches, desks, blackboards (with chalk and duster), computers, well-stacked library and well-equipped science laboratory”, apart from ceiling fans, enough electricity to ensure rooms were “well-lit”, mid-day meals, water purifiers, and separate, hygienic toilets for boys and girls.
The High Court order came on a PIL over the “abysmal condition” of the Government Intermediate College in Dudhli village, 20 km from Dehradun.
In the 34 months since the service petition was filed, later converted into a PIL by the High Court, the school, from Classes 6 to 12, has been transformed. Its 188 students — 90 boys and 98 girls — now study in two two-storey, earthquake-resistant buildings with classrooms freshly painted in light brown and cream. They have individual desks and chairs, and each class has a room to itself. Tiles cover the floors and a 400-metre-long, 7-ft-high boundary wall surrounds the premises.
Each pillar of the school building has a brief introduction on current and former presidents and prime ministers of the country, and the governors and chief ministers of Uttarakhand. Each pillar is also adorned with a plant growing in a plastic bottle.
All the classes have blackboards, and some have been upgraded with the new greenboards. Both the physics and chemistry laboratories are equipped for practical experiments, while the library is taking shape. There are four separate, clean toilets for boys and girls.
“Our school now looks as well-maintained as private schools,” beams Principal Sudhanshu Aswal, showing pages of a register that has “excellent” feedback from various visitors to the school, including a chief judicial magistrate and a National University of Educational Planning and Administration professor.
Adjacent to the renovated main building that has classes from 6 to 10, still stands the old structure. Till a year ago, physics lectures for Classes 11 and 12 were conducted here. Ajay Kumar, a social activist and former student of the Dudhli school, says as a child, he and his classmates had dreaded the monsoon, fearful that the walls and the roof would collapse. “Scared parents had written letter after letter to get the school renovated,” the 27-year-old adds.
Then, urged by Kumar, the children adopted a unique form of protest three years ago. On Teachers’ Day, September 5, they turned up at school wearing helmets. The story of a classroom full of students in helmets reached the media.
Officials reacted by giving Deepak Rana, then in-charge of the school, a “punishment posting” for having allowed media on the school premises. “The protest took place in September 2014 and in October, I was asked to join a school in Pithoragarh district’s Berinag town,” Rana says.
When Rana went to the Uttarakhand High Court to stop the transfer, the court had a look at the pictures of the school that he had submitted. Seeing the condition of the school, the court suo motu converted Rana’s petition into a PIL.
Between 2015 and 2016, at least Rs 1.4 crore was sanctioned by the state government for the school’s renovation and reconstruction, Principal Aswal says. By December 2016, a new school stood where the old one had been. Shalu Thapa, 16, in Class 12, says she is happiest about the two clean and functional toilets for girls now. She shudders still at what they had to do earlier to relieve themselves during school hours. They would go to the jungles beyond the road across the school, in a group. As one girl relieved herself, the others formed a semi-circle around her. “When we had our menstrual cycle, missing school was the only option,” she adds.
Sunita, whose elder daughter Sheetal (22) has studied from the Dudhli school, and whose younger daughter Shweta (13) is currently in Class 7 there, says, “I find it difficult to reconcile the old school and the new.” She is also sure the school will become even better.
Abhishek Lodhi, 14, joined in Class 10 three months ago. He shifted from a private school as the family couldn’t afford the admission fees for Class 10 of Rs 9,600. “Here I pay Rs 82 per month as fees and the education is good,” Abhishek, the youngest of three siblings, says.
Aswal says they have more such cases of students shifting from private schools to their school. “Parents now realise that they don’t need to spend beyond their capacity to get good education for their children.” The school plans to next get an auditorium, a biology laboratory, a full-fledged library, a water purifier, a new kitchen, and a common room for girls.
Dhirendra Nath, whose children Janvi (16) and Shivangi (11) have this year joined the school in Classes 11 and 6, respectively, says he noticed the discipline, cleanliness, quality of education in the school before shifting his children from private schools there. “I had seen the school five years ago when I was searching for a school for my elder daughter. Now it looks like a different place altogether,” Dhirendra, a taxi driver in Dehradun, says. He also noticed the improved pass percentage. In Class 10, the pass percentage at Government Intermediate College, Dudhli, has jumped by 18 per cent since 2015, to 74 per cent. In Class 12, the pass percentage this year was 93.1 per cent. In 2014, the figure stood at 27.08 per cent.