The Singaram Pillai Government Higher Secondary School in Villivakkam near Chennai sports a new look post the pandemic-induced lockdown. The school has neither been given a facelift nor any infrastructural development has taken place. Instead the steps taken have resulted in the shrinking of the school area. The management has been accused of violating the laws in the guise of the COVID-19 pandemic and selling more than around 75% of the area of the school.
Few of the school buildings have been converted into commercial spaces while new buildings are coming up in the playgrounds. The property is said to be worth several crores of rupees, given the land value in the city. The academic fraternity and political parties have begun a struggle to save the school, which is educating the socially and economically backward students in the locality.
Alleging the role played by the steering committee member of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), J C T Prabhakar in the sale of the school property, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] held a protest rally to the District Educational Office (DEO) after a signature campaign.
ILLEGAL SALE OF THE LAND
The school, which was established as a middle seven decades back, was later upgraded to a higher secondary school and started receiving the government aid. The school is managed by ‘Singaram Pillai School Society’.
The urban poor have been depending on this school for their education for all these years while the management has been vying to make revenue from the space available and has utilised the lockdown to their advantage.
The school campus now houses a supermarket and hotel while construction work for an IT company is also continuing. “The area of the school was almost 12.5 grounds (around 0.66 acres) and the same is now being reduced to around four grounds. During the lockdown, the management has sold or leased more than eight grounds property, which is worth crores of rupees,” said G Selva, secretary of the Central Chennai district committee of the CPI(M).
Also read: TN: Guv’s Delay in Approving 7.5% Reservation in Medical Admissions for Govt. Students Sparks Row
The party has also demanded the government to cancel the sale deed and take action against the leader of the ruling AIADMK who is one of the main accused. The reduction in built up area for the schools came to light after a tragic fire accident in a Kumbakonam private school killed 94 children.
MANAGEMENT VIOLATED THE NORMS
The management of an aided school cannot sell the property which houses the school, as per the rules. A delegation of the CPI(M) led by its polit bureau member G Ramakrishnan visited the school premises and met the Director of School Education to appraise the current scenario. The party also demanded immediate action against the culprits who have acted against the rules in sale of the school property.
“The management cannot indulge in selling the school property. Even for appointing a staff worker, the management has to get the approval of the education department. Then we wonder how the sale of property has taken place. The Private School (Regulation) Act, prohibits any such action,” said G Ramakrishnan.
Once the school is aided by the government, the management can only govern the school and cannot make any policy decisions without the assent of the government. The school had an annual strength of around 3,000 since the recent years, which has reduced following the approach of the management in developing the facilities for the students of the school, he further added.
Selva said, “The construction works are continuing without the approval of the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) and the sale has taken place without the knowledge of the education department. The DEO office is a stone’s throw away from the school and the officials were totally unaware of the illegal activities”.
ALUMNI APPROACH MADRAS HIGH COURT
Concerned by the happenings in the school, an alumni, Sivalingam has approached the Madras High Court, which has directed the director of School Education to respond to the submission.
Sivalingam said, “This school has been educating students belonging to the oppressed communities of the locality. The school is totally aided by the government and hence the mid day meal schemes have played a crucial role in bringing children to the school for the past several decades. The recent happenings are so worrisome and hence I decided to approach the high court.”
The management has been trying for the past few years to close down the school citing the reduction in admission. The parents of the students in the school allege the management of doing this on purpose.
“The management has been engaging in attempts since the beginning of 2019 to close down the school. Since then, we have been fighting against the highhanded actions of the management. This school caters to several students in the surroundings. In the event of the school being locked down, they will lose their opportunity to pursue school education at an affordable cost,” added Selva.