What a Morning !…. Wife and I left residence at 9.30 am to go to Siddhi Vinayak Temple and St Anthony and Infant Jesus, like we do every Tuesday… we entered heavy Traffic on Peddar Road itself and right till Worli we saw the traffic piling up on the other side moving towards South Mumbai…. clearly this was abnormal and we were unaware as to what could have caused it
We reached our residence at 12.30 pm, after a gruelling three hours in traffic… normally we would have done this in half an hour… we opted to divert via Parel, Lalbaug, Clare Road, Nagpada, Mumbai Central and Tardeo, only to rejoin the bumper to bumper at Haji Ali… then we diverted via Warden Road and were stuck 45 min on it… we squeezed into a one way lane, or else we would have taken a hour more !
It would be foolish to venture to go to office now in the Fort Area
The trouble fermented because of the New Era School Problem… This school is on Hughes Road, just past the Kemps Corner Flyover… a few weeks ago the protests were on the sidewalk outside the school
But today it was a ‘Rasta Roko’ by the Children who study here and their Parents… they had blocked the Main Road by lying across it, supported by the local MLA Mangal Lodha…. Police seem to have been taken completeLy unawares of this Road Block…. Traffic is at a virtual standstill for several kms moving into South Mumbai… half an hour runs are taking three hours
The trouble has been brewing for a few months now and the anger boiled over when the School Authorities, influenced by the Agarwals of Orbit and the Birla Group shifted 800 SSC students to a building on DN Road, near my office under the excuse that the School Building needed urgent repairs
The real cause apparently was that they have commenced IB Classes too… Fees for these run into several lakhs, while the SSC Stream fees are a few thousand… so clearly this shift appears to be a commercial decision
The parents went to court and despite the Mumbai High Court ruling in their favour, the Birlas approached the Supreme Court… This Apex court directed the Director of Education, based in Pune to make a decision by Monday, July 27, 2009… This did not happen as therefore this ‘Rasta Roko’ on Tuesday… The Director has been granted a ten day extension by the Apex Court but the Maharashtra CM has asked him to decide by 11 am on Wednesday, July 29, 2009 if the shift is necessary….. if it is then it must be made under condition that the students are moved back once the Building is fit
The Parents and Children see the Building as Fit but the SSC Students have not been moved back by July 15, 2009, which was the school reopening date….. Parents are up in arms as they view this as simply delaying tactics by the Birla Group, who wish to promote IB at this School at Hughes Road
The School is run by a Trust and the Aditya Birla Group and Pujit and Ravi Kiran Agarwal of the Orbit Builder Group has taken it over for Rs 100 crs a year or two ago… I had wondered at the time as to who would pay such a huge sum for a continuing school… how would they recover such an amount ?… surely it could not be purely a philanthropic pursuit ! ?
Clearly this Group had a Gameplan, which they are now executing
The Trustees were probably mislead by the Birlas and Agarwals, that they would not close the school and assured them of it’s continuity… many trustees actually stayed in the School building and had vacated to newly acquired and nearby posh apartments…. the windfall consideration they had received surely came in handy… If, however these trustees sold out, knowing of this Gameplan from the New Buyers, then sadly they have sold out their children! It would be unfair to name these Trustees unless we know for sure that they knew these matters would come to pass like they have !
Then the Gameplan began…. On the basis of a structural engineer’s certificate that the school building was in poor shape, the SSC students were moved to a building 5 to 6 kms away in VT area… Rs 10 crs were apparently spend to renovate the School building and even make it airconditioned to operate the IB Classes… When the Building became fit again, the SSC students were not moved back… Instead new admissions for the IB Course were taken. The School Authorities yet claim the Building is unfit… They have asked the court to let them conduct on priority and urgent basis the SSC X Std from a school in Tardeo…. Why can’t they do so in the existing renovated premised itself !? rather than planning to conduct IB Classes here !?
A few weeks ago, Mangal Lodha went on a ‘Fast unto Death’ outside the School premises… supported by Parents and SSC Students… He called off the fast under assurances that the school would reopen for SSC Students… This assurance was a lie and today’s Road Block is the result
Even though I too was a victim in this Traffic Chaos, I completely support the Parents and Children of New Era School… For Months they have been fighting their cause but this city of Mumbai could be very selfish and cruel indeed…. most will not support a cause where they have no interest at stake… they will pass the ‘dharna’ everyday and offer only amused smiles
With this serious Road Block, they have seriously got the attention that their cause deserves… admittedly it caused misery to those travelling by road… but the Parents and students resorted to this in sheer frustration and anger and after exploring all alternatives!
One Banner held by an affected Student said it all :
“Kasab killed 200, Birlas killed 1000 !”
And another small child held up by his parent threatened the Birlas “Students koh vapis lao, nahi toh tumhari vaat laga denge !” (Get the Students back or else you’ll have had it from us !)
And an FM Radio 94.3, even got on air, Kavina… she’s in the 9th Std and is the Deputy Head Girl of New Era School… the conversation was abruptly cut off…. but not before Kavina revealed that the old Building at VT, where 800 SSC students have been shifted, has one staircase and Seven Floors and the Municipality has vacated two buildings alongside, saying they could fall anytime and if they do, they will fall onto the School Building !…. The Original School Building at Hughes Road has been repaired just a year ago and the School’s Engineer says it will last atleast another 25 years !
We’re making our City, Mumbai, a Jungle where Might is Right… Builders, Politicians, Underworld, Unscrupulous Businessmen, Corrupt Government Personnel… the nexus is so strong that the common man has no voice…. “Paisa kay liye kuch bhi karega !”
We need Voices like those of the New Era Parents and their Children… They have shown us there is some spirit left in Mumbai
The way I see this, I hope the Birlas see sense and not compromise the future of so many children, purely for commercial reasons… Schools are not Companies !.. They are Temples of Learning…. and Students are the disciples….. The sanctity must be maintained