The constant erosion of land by the Ganga in Malda's Ratua-I block over the past few days has raised questions about the survival of a high school in the area with around 2,700 students.
The river, which is eroding away land from Mahanandatola village of the block, is inching closer to the Katahadiara High School.
“As of now, the Ganga is flowing at a distance of around 150 metres on the northern side of the school. We fear that if the erosion is not checked, the river will gobble up the school building,” said Palash Mukherjee, the headmaster.
In the past couple of days, around 70 houses, along with land, have been devoured by the mighty river in Mahanandatola and some neighbouring villages, which are on its left bank.
“The situation is grim. This co-educational school is the only higher secondary school for students of eight to 10 villages. The manner in which the river is advancing toward the school does not leave us with a lot of hope to save the school building. If the school is gone, the future of our students is uncertain,” Mukherjee added.
The headmaster’s house, which is in the vicinity of the school, is equally at risk.
“But I am more concerned about the future of the school building than my house. The house is my own but the school gives education to hundreds of children from financially weaker families,” said Mukherjee.
Studies of the students of the area have already been affected badly by erosion. Minati Mandal, whose daughter studies in Class VII in the school, said they were keener on shifting their household items to safer places with their children than on their studies.
“We are trying to save whatever belongings we have as the river can gobble our house any day. The children are also helping us in the work. They cannot go to school,” she said.
A senior citizen in Mahanandatola pointed out that even if the school survives, if the families near it move to far-flung places to avoid arosion, the children would find it inconvenient to travel long distances to reach the school.
“Earlier too, we have seen such cases where children had eventually dropped out because their families relocated to escape erosion," the elderly man said.
Officials of the district administration, when contacted, said they were aware of the situation.
“We are looking into the issue and will leave no stone unturned to save the school. Saving the school is easier said than done, but we cannot give up easily,” said Malda district magistrate Nitin Singhania.
Singhania said that all possible measures were being taken by the administration to help the families who were rendered homeless in the area owing to the recent spike in erosion.
“Vehicles have been provided so that the families can shift their movable properties faster. Dry food and tarpaulins have been distributed and a mass kitchen has been opened. We are arranging pure drinking water, electricity and lavatories for them on the war footing,” added the DM.
A.H. Khan Choudhury, the veteran Congress MP of Malda South, blamed the Narendra Modi government at the Centre for its alleged indifference to the erosion crisis in the district.
“I had personally approached the Prime Minister and requested him to adopt some measures in preventing erosion as his predecessor Manmohan Singh had done. However, I received no reply from the PMO. The central government should take suitable measures to prevent erosion as the state government alone cannot combat the disaster,” said the MP, echoing Trinamul local leaders who have also alleged the Centre's apathy in curbing erosion.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has time and again accused the Centre of indifference in taking up anti-erosion works.
The BJP's local leadership has claimed that Trinamul has not given the Centre a detailed plan to curb erosion.