Chunks of concrete from the roof lie on the floor of the Purani Ranchi minority school, while children of run-down . Pictures by Hardeep Singh
Children in many state-run schools of Ranchi can be forgiven if they stare at the ceiling instead of the blackboard. They aren’t distracted, but are revealing basic survival instincts as they fear the roof might just cave in.
Eight months before the Centre’s first deadline to state governments to ensure safe school buildings among other Right to Education Act (2009) provisions, roofs fell in two capital cradles back-to-back over the weekend.
On Saturday at 11am, the asbestos roof of Birsa Siksha Niketan at Jagannathpur, 14 km from city limits, fell with a thud. On Sunday night, the concrete roof of the verandah of Government Primary School (Urdu) in Purani Ranchi collapsed.
Luckily in both cases, there were no casualties. The lives of 58 students at the Jagannathpur school and of nearly 200 in its Purani Ranchi counterpart were saved thanks to providence, not planning.
The asbestos roof of the Jagannathpur school fell, unable to stand the onslaught of heavy rains.
In the second case, the Purani Ranchi school building has the dubious distinction of having no roofs above four of its six rooms.
Over the past one year, the dilapidated building has seen its roofs cave in one by one with unfailing regularity. Sunday’s incident was the latest in which the one over the verandah caved in. Since no student or teacher has been injured so far, no one has taken notice of the terrifying rubble that the school has become.
Local youths, many of them the school’s alumni, say as much.
“For many years, we have been asking government officials for a new building in place of this risky old building. But, we have no idea why a new building has not yet come up,” said Modassar Alam, a young resident of Purani Ranchi and alumnus of the Urdu cradle.
“It is specially risky in monsoon, when rains lash the weakened structure. Nearly 200 students, who comprise almost all the minority children of this area, study here, which means so many young lives are at risk,” said Shahnawaz Alam, a resident.
Both schools are two random examples of dangerously poor infrastructure for children.
Ironically, the Right to Education (RTE) Act mandates the state government must provide safe buildings, sufficient classrooms, drinking water, clean toilets, open space and trained teachers in all schools. All state governments have two deadlines to meet the RTE Act requirements, March 31 in 2013 and then in 2015.
Schools, however, know better. “The asbestos roof leaks whenever it rains. We remain watchful,” said a teacher of Utkramit Prathamik Vidyalaya in Kokar, with 47 students. The children, all from poor families, troop into this shabby two-roomed structure without any open space.
In some state schools, new buildings are coming up and hand pumps are being installed. But clean toilets and open space are still dream.
Ranchi district superintendent of education A.K. Choudhary, who joined a few days ago, said he would look into the matter. “In next few days, we will draw up a list of run-down school buildings. Steps will be taken to replace them,” Choudhary said.
Neither human resource development secretary B.K. Tripathy, nor primary and secondary education director Mamta responded to phone calls made by The Telegraph.
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