Traffic at a standstill in South Mumbai this Morning…New Era School Parents and Students lying on Hughes Road outside their School…I support them

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

20 thoughts on “Traffic at a standstill in South Mumbai this Morning…New Era School Parents and Students lying on Hughes Road outside their School…I support them

  1. There was a time when Birlas opened institutes like BITS Pilani.
    Over the period of time these once big Business Houses have degraded in their ethics.
    And to be very frank, the impact is in their profits as well. Gone are the times when whole India used to eat TATA’s namak.
    Ethical companies in long run always make more profits. Even ethical promoters make more money than their unscrupulous peers. Take the case of NR Narayanmurthy, He is worth billions of dollars because of high premium that people give to Infosys Stock price. If he was running Infosys like our Lala companies he may have had 5-6000 crores in his swiss bank but much more would have been eroded from the market cap.
    After reading this article I have decided to boycott products of Birla Group. Be it Grasim clothing or their Life Insurance or mutual funds.

  2. I normally do not encourage Anonymous responses…but I have approved the one received on this article as it made some very valid points…..Just some advise to the person who has send it…when you take a firm stand you must have the courage to put your name on it…It will carry more respect and weight

    Birlas must realise they are losing a lot of Goodwill on this School issue…tell me, Kumaramangalam Birla…is this really worth it for your group and you!?…I’m sure you can handle it more transperantly and fairly and take into confidence all concerned parties….You can draw on an illustrious legacy to guide you in your efforts

    Today I was amused to see a huge ad in a leading newspaper put in by school authorities and the trust…You can afford this…parents and students cannot…..the ad seeks to clarify your position…it ends by stating that the matter being subjudice,there is no intention to stir up any debate on this….but selectively you have put in some data in the ad…..why is the ad silent on the fact of your foray into the more lucrative IB Classes at the Existing School Building on Hughes Road ?…This is being perceived to be at the Cost of SSC Students…and this is the crux of the Problem….This needs clarification and transperancy

  3. AVB Group is not only associated with opening up Schools / Institutions but it also stands for India as a Brand.

    I have a feeling that Mr. Kumarmangalam is not aware of the actual problem with the school. If he was then I guess a man of such a stature would have resolved this issue long time back. And that too in the favour of students. My 2 cents of Advice to Birla Group. 1. Since the reputation of your group is too big , please avoid this controversy.
    2. You already spend crores in the name of CSR. What are a few 70-80 crores? Start IB classes somewhere else.
    3) Birla Group’s strength doesn’t come from the scions that Birlas have produced but they come from professionals who were bright SSC students once. By messing up with them don’t mess up with your future leaders 🙂

  4. My Children are not studying in New Era High School. But, my friend’s children are studying so I can understand their pain.The competent authority who was supposed to take decision by today morning 11am( 29th july,2009), flew to Pune at night only to further delay the solution and parent representative rushed to pune in morning and obtained the order to restart the school.The sad part of the whole story is loss of studies to children because of hard core tacticts of management, slow response by judiciary and indifferent attitude of education department and at last we all common citizen, who awakes only when some disaster happen or some drastic steps taken by the affected people.
    Last but not the least ” bravo Mr. Gaurav Parikh, for your support.
    I am a CA by education and part of the NGO who runs RTI Act guidance center for citizens ( free of charge) and details of these centers can be obtained through thetmm.org website

  5. The win of New Era Students is just the beginning in itself. Of late, Education field is opening up, But check out the people who are managing it. 90% are opened and managed by politician. See the fees charged. This are done with short term gains. If more children can fit into such colleges, My God, we can really see India Shining within next decade. Let us hope for the best. Once again, let us keep alive the fire in the belly. Regds

  6. I think sometimes we get too emotional and carried away by hype. If you read the ad carefully, the building is clearly unsafe. And as a mother, there’s NO way, I’d send my kid to the school after reading excerpts from the engineers’ reports. I will never take a chance. Nor would I let my child be “used” like this. Imagine after their so-called “victory”, kids are going to think this is the way to get things done in future as well. Not the best values to give our kids. I’m also appalled to hear parents say that they’ll take the onus if a mishap befalls their kids. Covenience over safety? Let’s put on our thinking caps.

  7. Hey Gaurav

    Tell me, would you send your children to a school that was not 100% safe? I would not! So if the management wanted to construct a new building and bring back the children there after 2 years, what’s wrong with it?

    We have enough causes in India on which we can focus our energies! Why fight against something that will eventually be for the greater good of Mumbai’s children–a more modern, safer school?

  8. I believe that the school is more than 70 years old and is in need of urgent repairs….the bottom-line, I really wouldn’t be comfortable sending my child to a school which not certified as safe. Yes, about the inconvenience caused to Mumbaikars on account of the protests…well, it’s what we do best…minority holding the majority to ransom!

  9. Your blog provided the right information.Keep doing good job like this and create awareness in public. Thanks for spreading this message. Motivate and inspire.

    I feel the builder lobby will ruin the city instead of helping the population. this is a known fact that our politicians most of them are corrupt and these builders take advantage of this.

    hospital in our area which was initially Mandke hospital is now Kokilaben dhirubai ambani hospital and it is meant for 5 star hotel like only for rich class.Money power is ruining the Country.

  10. hello!
    Just yesterday in our aiesec gd, our topic of discussion was-“IS CORRUPTION NECESSARY TO GET AHEAD IN EVERY SPHERE OF LIFE?”I’m glad that today people have stopped saying it’s the system at fault;and giving up on what they believe in.It’s time each and every one of us picked up a mop and cleaned this contry of it’s corruption.APJ’s Vision 2020 still lives strong and is on it’s way to realisation! If you do not voice our opinion and choose to say no to corruption it’s never going to be able o topple the apparent ‘giants’ in the country.
    My mother had applied to this school 3-4 months back and they were giving her the same amt.that she earned in her previous icse school.No wonder teachers are on strike! Thus,we naturally blame the state government for it’s inefficiency!
    In my opinion let’s boycott not only his products but also his schools!(Tough at this moment tough :()…..and not let public memory obliterate this event from their minds!
    Warm Regards,
    Simran
    PS. Iwas wondering if your comment box can be bigger without a scroll box,soo much easier 🙂

  11. Dear Chitra,Sunita and Bibek,

    Appreciate all your responses

    I’m completely in sync with all your sentiments on not compromising on the structural safety of the school building and especially of ‘using’ the students to fight for their Rights rather than them concentrating on Studies and other wholesome activities

    I reside near the School and have seen the renovations and repairs work over the past two years…the building has been worked on the Interiors also..and the exterior has been given a fabulous and spanking new red brick effect and an airconditioning system has been introduced….Why would Crores have been spend like this if now they produce a ‘convenient’ report to show that the Structure is unsafe !?..Such ‘Means’ only serve their ‘Ends’

    The High Court,Supreme Court and the Director of Education,Mahrashtra State would have seriously considered the safety aspect before directing that SSC Students should not be shifted and the school must reopen at the existing structure

    The crux of the matter is that the School Authorities had initiated a Plan to introduce the IB Course from this year at the existing Structure…They have held seminars and meets inviting applications…Fees range from Rs 3 lakhs…and that’s lucrative….considering the Rs 100 crs paid by the Orbit and Aditya Birla Group to take over School Operations

    This has been perceived to be at the cost of the SSC Stream…In fact the school has applied that they be allowed to open classes at a Tardeo School for the critical SSC Tenth Std….why could not this Std be opened in the existing School Building itself ?…when you’re already planning to open the IB Stream here ?….There needs to be more transperancy in this matter…The Clarification Ad is silent on this issue

    If no classes,IB or SSC, are to be conducted for the next two years while the school trust wants to ‘repair’ the building…and then reopen and bring back the SSC Students as promised,then there should be no issue…but there has to be more transperancy and openness on this

    Even if this is the case,the building in VT Area,where the shift is planned,is probably more unsafe !

    However,Chitra as you rightly point out the effect this will have on the protesting students…I’m more concerned with this…these are tender,young impressionable minds and instead of concentrating on studies and other wholesome activities ,we have them in the forefront, fighting for their rights,holding Banners with strong accusatory and negative messages….I sincerely pray that they do not grow up to be ‘fighters’ in the wrong context…and that they are not ‘victimised’ by the school for these protests…that they would not require to undergo any ‘counselling’ other than for their Study & Career Choices…..the role of parents here is very vital…these protests should quickly be closed out as a one-off issue and the school should reopen fast and students and their parents should move on from here

    The way I see this….This Issue is more a Commercialisation of Education rather than a major Safety Issue…the latter has been resolved or else the Courts and the State Board would not have directed the reopening of the school at the existing structure itself…It’s a Bogey being raised

    Sadly, I visualise this scenario unfolding in the years ahead….The school authorities may ultimately get their way…they may just phase out SSC,if they have to,and concentrate on the more lucrative IB Stream !….how else would the Buyers get a payback of their Rs 100 crs !…and why would they have paid such a sum,if they had not planned all of this !?

    Companies highlight their Corporate Social Responsibilty (CSR) Initiatives in their Annual Reports….it should be made mandatory to report the negatives too on this front

    On a Macroview,seems everything in our Mumbai is for Sale !….our Great City is being Sold…structure by structure !…all in the guise of LPG…Liberalisation,Privatisation and Globalisation….moral,ethical,social repurcussions be damned

    Sad !

  12. I am single , I don’t have kids. I work to earn a living. And I work very hard at that. I am punctual. But what’s the use? My friend missed a flight. I couldn’t make it for an important meeting. All I want to know is – why was I held up for over 2 and a half hours in a traffic snarl for no fault of mine. Why are we as a country, always resorting to Bandhs, riots, rasta rokos, hunger strikes etc. If we need to grow as a country, we need to understand the importance of dialogue in resolving an issue. But no, we as a people feel the need to be melodramatic, we need to make a statement. And we need to show that we have powerful people supporting us. So we take the help of political leaders, who will use us while making us believe we are using them. And then it follows : Communal violence, lying down on railway tracks, raasta rokos. But what really set my blood boiling was to see children at the rasta roko as participants. What a pity, really. Then I remembered watching a man teaching his child how to steal near my house. Is this any different?

    Then the question arises – Who’s to blame? Thousands of innocent people were stranded and held to ransom for no fault of theirs. Standard Operating Procedure in India. Someone has an issue with someone. And innocent people have to pay the price.

    The school says the building is unsafe. The parents say it’s safe. I read an ad issued by the business house concerned which said they had three certified engineers who conducted scientific tests and found the building unsafe.

    What I found really appalling was the test supposedly conducted by a BMC engineer who put a coin and thumped a sofa. When the coin didn’t jump, it proved that the building was safe. I call that thook patti testing. That’s another thing that we as a nation are famous for? A carpenter who will hammer a few nails on a wobbly chair and say ‘do hafte aur chalegi yeh kursi’. Hanh bhai, par mujhe aisi kursi nahi chahiye, giroongi to main hi na?

    That brings me to another issue. We do not believe in the philosophy of ‘ if it ain’t broke, fix it’. We will wait till everything is ghisaoed and pitaoed because we need our money’s worth. Like a chappal that we won’t let go off and get the cobbler to fix it over and over again and one fine day it snaps when we least expect it to and we fall and break a leg.

    Now we have evolved such a great deal that parents are willing to take responsibility if there is a danger to their children’s lives. WOW. I am impressed. When people say we’re risk averse when it comes to investments after the global melt-down, I will say, at least we are not risk-averse as far as our children’s lives are concerned. I may not have children. But if I did, they wouldn’t have to stage rasta rooks because I couldn’t resolve an issue through dialogue.

  13. The Birlas have developed and put money into many educational institutions, especially schools. Industrialists, the size of the Birla group, will have far more lucrative ways of making money than through education.Safety and well being of the students is the primary concern of Aditya Birla Group and not the real estate of the school. Parents are not accepting the word of the city’s three leading structural consultants that the building is not safe and needs to be reinforced. please refer: http://bit.ly/14y8Wf

  14. Hi Ashley,

    Thanks for the response

    I hold absolutely no bias in this issue

    But I must assert that I disagree with Anil Dharker’s viewpoints expressed in August 2,2009 DNA Sunday,the link to which you have thoughtfully provided…I would have expected him to throw some light on the points that I reiterate yet again below

    My stand is simple…..Let us assume the parties in this issue may hold vested interests and their own bias….but would you say that our High Court and the Director of Education,Mah State (directed by the Supreme Court) were biased in not agreeing with reports of structural engineers that had concluded that the New Era School Building was unsafe ?…and directing the school to reopen soon in the existing structure…would they not have been concerned with the safety of the children too ?

    Who would pay Rs 100 crs for a School unless there was a Game plan in mind that involved Return on Investment ?..why also would nearly Rs 10 crs be spend on repairs,building a spanking new facade and then come out with the reports that the building was unsafe ?

    Why is there no transperancy in the School authoriries declarations,whether it be through clarification ads in leading newspapers and otherwise,on the commencement of the IB Stream in the existing structure and for which they had already conducted meets and seminars for attracting student applications ?

    There is more unsaid than said here by School’s new owners and it is this that has precipitated matters

    The Courts have supported the Parents stance…Surely they must have a strong and valid reason to do so

  15. Dear Gaurav, I would like to respond to your comment you wrote in response. Why are you believing in Director of Education’s decision who is not even qualified in construction and repair field that the building is safe and not the three qualified, experienced and reputed consultants of the city who have given the verict that the building is unsafe. Please read the ‘Announcement Section’ given in the http://tiny.cc/wD5H1 website of new era school that explains their decision. After all this is a matter of the safety of the students which is the prime concern.

  16. Dear Ashley,

    There is a letter today in the Mumbai Edition of the Afternoon Despatch and Courier by one Mr Rashmi Jhaveri

    The letter highlights some of the issues I too have raised…but it ends with a thought whether there could be any link between plans to construct a 17 storey structure in the present building’s place and claiming that the building is unsafe ?

    This actually says it all

    It even goes on to question as to when was the structure realised to be weak ?…surely not before the property was acquired as due diligence would have done the structural evaluation then and before undergoing the subsequent renovation…It was safe then…so how could it become unsafe somewhere between mid 2007 and early 2009 ? did shoddy work lead to this ?

    Birlas need to be more open and transperant in communication on this sensitive issue

    The Safety issue is a bogey being raised

    Let’s close the response to this Blog…you are certainly entitled to your views as I’m to mine….Also I’m no activist and reiterate that I hold no bias or vested interest in this issue….Just felt something was amiss here and am happy the courts too felt likewise

    Cheers and thanks for visiting my blog and caring to respond

  17. Hi Gaurav,

    Had an opportunity to read on your discussion on this with Ashley.

    While you are right that everybody has the right to have her/his view but a sensitive issue like this which is read across all ages and is concerned with young children should be dealt with lttle more caution.

    I think this would only make us more responsible citizens.

    I am impressed with Chitra’s and Ashley’s comments on this taking a neutral side and would just leave with you some facts which should be read before we start commenting on an issue just because we came out of a 3 hours long traffic jam…

    Aditya Birla Group’s contribution in building of Human Capital

     Runs 42 schools with a total of 42,000/- students
     Since inception, it has spent ~ 1000 Crores in running these schools
     One among very few groups in India which has appointed a Chief Education Officer
     Deployed ~ 15 Cr Rs. for the new building and blocked separate money for the renovation
     Group spends enormous amount on corporate social responsibility projects
    Details: http://www.adityabirla.com/social_projects/the_team.htm
     Runs scholarship program and funds education of people for last several years
    Details: http://www.adityabirlascholars.net/index.aspx

    Since the time Aditya Birla Group has taken over the New Era School – what changes have been effected?

     Management invested in appointing structural engineers to assess structural stability
     After taking over, management commenced repairs along with structural repair work
     Stated in all its communication that safety is of supreme and abiding concern.
     Management has given
     Undertaking to Education Dept. to bring the student back post repairs
     Indicated a clear timeline for completion i.e. 2 years
     Voluntary undertaking that there will no financial liability on students
     Management also approached SC to obtain permission to start std X classes at Tardeo
     Undertaking to Education Dept. that only education activities will be carried out in the new building – that there will no financial liability on students

    I guess you will appreciate that these facts speak for themselves and help us get more neutral on such issues to avoid any negative impact anywhere.

  18. Hello,

    This piece seems to have been written in anger and haste without verifying facts. I know, because I did the same thing when I wrote to some newspapers a few days ago on similar lines.

    Subsequently, only when I took the trouble to find out what the facts were, I realized that truth was far from what I had imagined and so wrote a rejoinder to the paper that I hope will be published soon. It is so easy to distort facts to sensationalize an issue: For example, figures mentioned in this article are totally fabricated and this would enable one to judge the level of credibility of this article. If I do not know something for sure, I will not put it in print and mislead others.

    One does not need even common sense to know that school’s premises, even after renovation, can only be used for educative purposes. The direction the current Management wishes to follow would naturally be their prerogative, so long as they honour the commitment to the current batch of students. If they wish to up-grade to an international standard that carries with it high fees, so be it, who am I to question them? If I was so rigid in my requirements, I will start my own school and set my own standards.

    Re. the strength of the present structure, there are 2 sides to the coin: The building is fine as far as the old rules go, but not enough to meet today’s more stringent standards that new buildings have to adhere to. I do feel that one of the reasons to build anew was to raise a multi-storey educational building in its place, but if this issue was handled in an amicable way, it would have saved a lot of unpleasantness.

    I believe that the views expressed in this article are not that of the majority, for I have spoken to several parents who seemed to be quite happy if the present trustees succeed with their plans.

  19. I have absolutely no issues with Progressive Education as Owners and Trustees see fit to implement…all I’m saying is that there should have been better transperancy on such a sensitive issue…as school authorities moves were perceived to have ulterior motives….if it’s going to be a win win situation after two years for all those concerned if the school building is redeveloped,then I’m wondering what is the basis on which the courts have supported the parents of students of the SSC Stream who were howling against the switch to the Fort Building !

    Anyway,I pray everything works out fine for all parties here….maybe the new owners may get a return on Investment for the Rs 100 crs they’ve paid to takeover the School !…I reiterate,this is not philanthropy….you don’t pay this sort of money unless you’ve have a gameplan in mind…and this is where there should have been clear and open transperancy,upfront itself

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