Where is the space?

File photo: Mir Imran/ GK

The school education department is all set to open schools to resume offline classes for the students in the Valley from March 01. The department is gearing up to sensitize the school campuses, particularly the class rooms and other surroundings.

All these measures are being taken to implement all the covid19 precautions to avoid further spread of the novel coronavirus. It will be a tough task for the government to resume offline classes for the students amid the space crunch in the schools.

In normal days, the schools accommodate students of three classes in one classroom while the headmaster’s office and store room are accommodated in one room. Under these circumstances, it will be a challenging job for the teachers to segregate students in classrooms because the majority of the schools are already facing space crunch.

Upper Primary School Gujjarnar is a case in place. The department has already shifted students of two classes of the institution to a nearby high school because of the non–availability of the classroom for the students. The school falls in the jurisdiction of education zone Mawar of Kupwara district. Now, after the schools will open from March 01, it will be seen how the students will be segregated in this institution to maintain social distance between the students.

This is not the lone school sans adequate accommodation for the students, but hundreds of other schools are facing the similar kind of space crunch. This has thrown up a major challenge for the government. There are some schools where the department has sanctioned more than 10 buildings for a school but the schools still face an accommodation problem as the majority of these school buildings are yet to be handed over to the department. The work on these school buildings has been left mid-way for unknown reasons.

Over the years, the department has failed to overcome the space crunch in schools despite making tall claims of taking the education sector to new heights. While looking at these schools one gets an impression that the government has failed to strengthen the infrastructure in these schools. But that is not the fact. The Government of India has been pumping in crores of rupees under various centrally sponsored schemes for construction of buildings. The buildings have been sanctioned over the past many years under erstwhile SSA, RMSA schemes but majority of the construction works have gone down the drain as the buildings have not been completed and handed over to the department.

Also, most of the school buildings sanctioned by the government of India await execution of construction work over the past many years and the department seems to be least bothered about it.

Also, the work on hundreds of schools buildings sanctioned over the years has been left midway by the contractors and these buildings do not have any watch and ward from the department, leaving them abandoned.

Over the years, successive regimes in J&K have failed to come up with a plan for their utilisation despite spending crores of rupees on these projects. There would have been no accommodation problem in schools had the successive regimes prioritized the execution of work and its completion and put it to use in schools. But the lackadaisical approach of the government has resulted in an accommodation crunch in schools, leaving the students at the receiving end.

As per the official data, the school education department has failed to start construction work on around 1290 buildings sanctioned under different components under SSA and RMSA schemes during past many years.

Also, work on more than 386 buildings has been left mid-may. These include 240 school buildings sanctioned for different middle schools after their upgradation to high school level.

As per the official data, 555 school buildings were sanctioned as strengthening components for schools facing accommodation crunch for students. But out of this, work on only 264 buildings has been completed so far while work on 278 buildings sanctioned in past years is yet to be started and work on 13 buildings is under progress till date.

Around 305 additional classrooms were sanctioned for different schools out of which only 82 buildings have been completed so far and 29 are under progress.

However, the department has failed to start construction work on 194 buildings. The construction of all these buildings was left midway either due to cost escalation or some kind of “nexus” between zonal authorities and the contractor.

In past years various scams were unearthed which exposed the nexus between the contractors and officials at zonal level in the construction of buildings.

Some cases were also referred to the vigilance department for probe and money was recovered from erring officials of the department.

Given the delay in completion of work on school buildings, the government has brazenly wasted resources and occupied the land in school premises rendering the students without any space for their participation in extracurricular activities in schools. Most importantly, the schools are left with no classrooms to attend their classes.

While the funds worth crores have gone down the drain in education department in the name of opening new schools or providing additional accommodation to students under erstwhile SSA and RMSA scheme, till date, no official inquiry or departmental inquiry has been ordered against the officials and contractors who allegedly misused these funds in the name of infrastructure expansion in the school department.

Given the present scenario it seems that the department has dumped these under construction buildings. But if the department puts in little effort most of these schools will be made functional and students will get proper accommodation in their respective schools which is much required amid the covid19 pandemic. Government should wake up from the slumber and focus on completion of these buildings to overcome the accommodation issue. The situation after March will be more challenging than it was during previous years. Hope good sense prevails.