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Education takes a backseat as school furniture fuels hearths

Dhubri, Oct. 14: School furniture in Dhubri district are burning, long after the fires of violence have died down in the district.

The riot-displaced, who are taking shelter at schools in Dhubri, have been forced to use the desks and benches to keep their stoves burning, because of a shortage of firewood over the past few months.

At present, having run out of furniture, the inmates are cutting down trees in the vicinity.

Mannat Ali, 50, of Basbari village under Gossaigaon police station of Kokrajhar district, was found chopping a log with an axe for firewood at the 72 Matiabagh JB School beside National Highway 31 near Gauripur of Dhubri district when this correspondent approached him.

Asked why he was chopping the log, Ali said there was no supply of firewood from the government. Thus they were left with no alternative but to cut down trees.

Most inmates housed in schools are doing the same.

“If the government does not want us to cut down trees, then ask them to give us LPG connections to cook our food,” Md Sekandar Ali, another inmate, said.

A source in Dhubri district Sarba Siksha Abhijan office said of the 170 schools, the tables, desks and benches of 40 have been used as firewood, while furniture of 110 schools was completely damaged.

“Tables, desks and benches of 40 schools have to be made afresh while furniture of 110 schools will have to be repaired,” the source said.

The source added that a proposal has been submitted to the state education department with an estimate of nearly Rs 74 lakh to build the furniture, repair the sanitation system, disinfect the school premises and whitewash the school buildings.

Dhubri district elementary education officer Mridul Neog said they had not received funds but they would sit with district high officials to revise the earlier estimate that had been sent.

The attendance of students in the makeshift sheds on the school premises has been very poor with some schools recording less than 50 per cent.

In some schools, though, students have been luckier, as the inmates have moved into the temporary sheds themselves.

The temporary shelters have been constructed in 93 schools with a financial grant from the government.

The rest of the schools have made other arrangements to conduct classes, an official source said.

Activists of the Bilasipara unit of the All Assam Students’ Union will stage a fast-unto-death in Bilasipara town on Wednesday, demanding the opening of schools housing the riot-hit persons in the district.

Adviser to the students’ union, Zakir Hussain, said they were left with no other way but to sit for a fast. “We will not break our fast until health and education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma comes to Bilasipara and assures us that the schools would be opened,” Hussain said.