The Bengal government has sanctioned Rs 109.42 crore to undertake immediate repair of 6,468 affiliated primary, secondary and higher secondary schools that suffered serious damage because of back-to-back cyclones, including Amphan and Yaas.
Besides, maintenance eluded the buildings as the institutions remained shut for the past 18 months following the outbreak of Covid-19 and subsequent lockdown.
Responding to an appeal made by the commissioner of school education, the school education department on Monday allotted funds to begin the repairs as early as possible. The department has been planing to reopen academic institutions after Diwali.
The education department also directed the sub-allotment of the funds through district magistrates.
“We hope the Covid situation will improve further leading to a conducive situation to reopen schools by the middle of November. So, our objective is to finish maintenance and repairs by then,” said a senior official of the school education department.
Within a couple of months after the pandemic had broken out and the nationwide lockdown had been clamped from March last year, Cyclone Amphan devastated large stretches of Bengal’s Gangetic and coastal areas of North and South 24-Parganas and East and West Midnapore districts.
A year later, people in the state experienced Cyclone Yaas, which also caused serious damage to the lives and properties of people. Several school buildings suffered serious damage in the two cyclones. But none of the school authorities could undertake necessary repairs primarily for restrictions on normal activities imposed by the state government because of Covid and lack of funds.
“Several schools have suffered damage and on the basis of inputs provided by the local administration, we have prepared a list of such schools and appealed for financial support for their repairs. The state government has considered our appeal and allotted funds,” an official of commissioner of school education at Bikash Bhawan said.
Sources in the commissioner’s office said of the 6,468 schools, a large number of them are in East Midnapore, South 24-Parganas and North 24-Parganas where the two cyclones had wreaked havoc.
Large number of schools were damaged with big trees falling on the buildings during the cyclones. While some had their walls and roofs damaged, the cyclone also blew away tin sheds of several schools.
Punam Goswami, head teacher of Sodial Basic School at Raidighi in South 24-Parganas, said: “Cyclone Yaas ravaged my school. The building was severely damaged after a huge tree fell on it. We could not take up repairs because of lack of funds and also the prevailing Covid situation. We made an assessment of the loss and asked the higher authorities for help.”
“It now appears that the much-awaited repairs will be taken up. Otherwise, resuming normal classes after Puja vacation will be difficult.”
Most of the school authorities have welcomed the state government's initiative, but at the same time raised doubts as to how the required job could be carried out in a month with the festive season already setting in.
"The festive season has almost begun. Puja vacation is barely four days away. I doubt when work will actually begin," a headmaster of a school in North 24-Parganas said.
Chandan Maiti, state general secretary of Advanced Society for Headmasters' and Headmistresses, has demanded that the school education department should ensure immediate allotment of estimated funds in favour of the schools.
"Unless funds are sent to schools immediately, the necessary repair and reconstruction would be delayed and it would affect resumption of classes after the Puja vacation," Maiti told The Telegraph.
Maiti’s comment carries significance as chief minister Mamata Banerjee had in August hinted at reopening schools after Puja but the ground realities do present a daunting task for the authorities.
Additional reporting by Snehamoy Chakraborty in Bolpur