Students of DAV-Dugda on way to their lab on campus on Tuesday. Picture by Pankaj Singh
Whether or not siblings Rahul and Ravi Shankar, both DAV-Dugda students, ever get to play in school again depends on JMM strongman and Dumri MLA Jagannath Mahto. Or so, a section of the Kurmi-Mahto residents, who claim the school campus is their ancestral land, would have everyone believe.
Students of the premier CBSE school near Bokaro answered final exams on Tuesday but found the campus playground out of bounds as the debate over the ownership of the seven-acre campus ended inconclusively.
A day after schoolchildren, teachers and the principal fasted to protest Kurmi-Mahto residents laying the foundation stone for their Sardar Patel-Binod Behari Mahto memorial on the campus playground, BCCL produced documents to prove they had given seven acres of lease land to DAV.
But members of the Kurmi-Mahto community refused to see reason and put the matter on hold as their most powerful spokesperson here, Dumri MLA Jagannath Mahto of the JMM, refused to turn up.
Bokaro district circle officer Manoj Kumar, BCCL project officer and DAV-Dugda chairman A.K. Ojha as well as Kurmi-Mahto leader Uttam Mahto held talks for four hours. Finally, Uttam and his aides left the meeting midway.
“Our MLA (Jagannath Mahto) is very busy and does not have the time for the next two days. So, the meeting stays inconclusive,” he said.
Uttam added that villagers were waiting for his decision. “The decision of vidhayakji (MLA) will be final no matter who likes it or not,” Uttar said, warning the DAV school not to use the sports ground. “We have planned to open a girls’ college named after Binod Behari Mahto and Sardar Patel.”
“Who is BCCL to ask for land documents from us. We will submit the records in court only,” said one of Uttam’s aides.
Project officer and chief negotiator on behalf of BCCL and the DAV, A.K Ojha told The Telegraph that villagers did not have documents. “They have no legal claim over this land, which we gave the school. We have all legal documents. But they need to see it. It is illegal of villagers to stop DAV students from their own playground,” Ojha said.
Bermo SDO Rahul Kumar Sinha said the situation was sad. “Yesterday also I pleaded with villagers and MLA Jagannath Mahto to go for negotiations but at the same time allow children to enter the playground, which was refused,” he said.
But the spirit of students was undimmed by the drama.
DAV eighth grader Rahul Kumar sent an email to The Telegraph on Tuesday, saying: “Our school is right.” Speaking to The Telegraph later in the evening, he said he and his younger brother were among those who fasted for the school grounds.
The boys also belong to the Kurmi-Mahto community. Yet, Rahul said: “I only want my playground back.”
DAV ninth grader Abhishek Prasad called up The Telegraph to say: “Only a few villagers are trying to wrest our playground from us for selfish motives.”
DAV chemistry teacher Vijay Kumar said: “Yesterday (Monday), it was decided that documents would prove if the land belongs to BCCL or to villagers. Today (Tuesday) villagers could not show documents. So, why can’t children play?”
A man who refused to be named, called it “a pre-poll stunt by the MLA”. “
“The MLA is eager to please his vote bank at the cost of DAV schoolchildren,” he said.