Abandoned buildings shown as functional schools to 'justify teacher salaries'

The use of abandoned school buildings by other government departments in Jammu and Kashmir is unlikely because the structures are shown as separate functional schools in Unified District Information on School Education data prepared by the school education department every year.

On the basis of the UDISE data, the ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) releases maintenance and school grants besides other funding to the education department.

Last week, the school education department was asked to reconcile the data of abandoned school buildings and make a utilisation plan for handing these over to other departments.

The administration is mulling to shift ICDS centres and primary health centres (PHCs) to these rented buildings.

“But the decision will face hurdles as the school education department can’t lose administrative control over these buildings,” said an official dealing with the subject.

He said that no school has been officially closed but enrolment of students and strength of teaching staff of the clubbed schools is shown separately on UDISE.

“On basis of this data we get funds for the salary for teachers and head teachers shown working in these schools which are however clubbed physically,” the official said.

In 2015, the state’s education minister started a rationalisation process after 124 schools were found having no student enrolment.

In some other schools there were less than 10 students on the roll.  The rationalisation of schools was done to streamline the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) in government schools.

“It was also decided that if the enrolment of the clubbed schools increased then they will be shifted back to their original locations,” an official said.

But over the years no significant increase in student enrolment in these schools happened. Consequently, no clubbed school was shifted back to its original location.

During the rationalisation process, 2406 schools including 1834 working from rented accommodations and 572 government-owned schools were clubbed in Kashmir while as over 1490 schools were clubbed in Jammu region.

The merger of over 2400 schools in Kashmir alone gave a surplus staff of 3553 teachers in these co-located schools.

Afterwards, around 803 government owned school buildings – 419 in Kashmir and 384 in Jammu – were spared which were later left abandoned with no watch and ward from the department.

“But the cause of worry is that we don’t call them abandoned because the enrolment and teachers’ strength of these clubbed schools is shown separate on UDISE data,” an official said.

He said officially closing these buildings was possible because it would contradict the UDISE data.

“If we will remove these buildings from UDISE where will we fit the teachers whose postings are shown against the sanctioned posts of these schools?” asked the official.

In Baramulla district there are around 94 buildings declared abandoned for which the district administration has asked the education authorities to retain some buildings for the department’s own use. Rest of the buildings will be given to other departments to make these buildings functional.

“We have decided to shift PHCs or ICDS centres in these buildings so that these buildings will get proper maintenance and will be put to use by the government,” said deputy commissioner Baramulla, G N Itoo.

He however added that the property rights of these buildings will remain with the education department.

“Because, if tomorrow the education department wants to reopen the school at the same location we can’t deny them,” Itoo said.

As reported in Greater Kashmir, after rationalisation of schools the education department had decided to handover these buildings to social welfare department for ICDS (Anganwari centres).

But the decision didn’t materialise over the issue of property rights.

“The education department wanted us to maintain these buildings but keep these buildings under their administrative control. So we didn’t agree to take over these buildings,” an official in social welfare department said.

Director School Education Kashmir (DSEK), Muhammad Younis Malik, said district-wise details of abandoned school buildings were not completed yet.

“We are still working on it. But there has to be a watch and ward on these buildings,” Malik said.