Patna, July 10: Going to school continues to be an ordeal for students of the Government Middle School in Kaimur, nearly a year after The Telegraph highlighted their plight and the Bihar Human Rights Commission rapped the district authorities on the knuckles.
Students of the school from Machkhian village, roughly 180km southwest of Patna, boycotted classes last week in protest against the district authorities' failure to build a bridge over the Durgawati river or provide a boat for the children to get to school.
In August last year, The Telegraph had highlighted how the students had to swim for about 20 minutes across the 35-metre-wide branch of the Durgawati to go to school.
"The girls were the worst sufferers as they had to change their clothes after crossing the river. They can't go to school in wet dresses," Bhupendra Nath, the principal, said on Sunday.
A Calcutta-based non-government organisation (NGO) provided a country boat after The Telegraph report was published. The Bihar Human Rights Commission, taking suo motu cognisance of the report, had directed chief secretary Anjani Kumar Singh to provide one more.
"It's a constitutional obligation of the State to provide roads, schools, health and education to the citizens and their children," commission chairperson Justice (retired) Bilal Nazki had observed. The commission had also directed the Kaimur district administration to initiate immediate steps to build a road connecting the school to Machkhian and adjoining villages. The then Kaimur district magistrate (DM) Arvind Kumar Singh had promised to arrange for an additional boat. But nothing has changed.
The children - the school is for students from classes VI to VIII - have decided to meet DM Rajeshwar Prasad Singh to iterate the demand for an additional boat as a short-term measure and the construction of a bridge for a permanent solution to the problem.
Kaimur district programme officer (DPO) Satya Narayan Prasad issued an order last month asking the school principal to shift the students to two schools.
The DPO's letter, a copy of which is with The Telegraph, revealed that while 55 of the 79 students were shifted to the Machkhian Primary School, the remaining students were transferred to Piparian village, in Mohania block of the district. Principal Bhupendra had no option but to comply.
As a result, the middle school students were shifted on July 2 when the school reopened after the summer vacation. The primary school and the Piparian school can be reached without crossing the river, but entail an additional journey of 3km and 4km respectively. Villagers feel that is too far a distance for the children, who go to school on foot. Earlier, they had to travel less than a kilometre, including crossing the river by boat, to reach school.
Most students are reluctant to attend classes at the new schools.
The principal said the number of admission seekers had increased after the NGO, Lions Club International, provide a boat. However, even students enrolled in a high school across the river are using the same boat, increasing the pressure on it, pointed out Deepak Kumar, a local villager. Over 200 students are enrolled at the high school.
"Had the district administration been serious it would have provided a boat from its side and would have taken steps to construct a bridge across the river," said Osiyar Singh, another villager. "It instead chose to shift the school, which shows its apathy towards school-going children."
Satyadev Singh, block education officer (BEO) of Durgawati, clarified that classes have been shifted for four months only - July to October - as a precautionary measure.
"We don't want to take any chance as the river is in spate these days," the BEO said.
The order for the school shift was issued on the basis of a report furnished by the BEO, who visited the school on May 13 this year.
The newly elected Machkhian mukhiya, Raju Singh, said he would accompany the students when they meet the DM and request for an additional boat and a bridge over the river - if the administration is really concerned about the safety of the children.