PUNE: A thirty-five-year-old resident of Karandi, in Akole Taluka of Ahmednagar district, Khamaji Balvanta Ghondke, is forced to look for a nearby private school for his two children, a daughter studying in Standard IX and son studying in Standard VI after the ashram shala authorities told him that they would be closing down the school.
Khamaji Balvanta Ghondke told Sakal Times, “The nearest private school is 7-8 km away from where we stay and our children have to walk all the way to school.” Ghondke, belonging to Koli Mahadeo tribe, has to burn a hole in his pocket to pay the fees for both his children.
Similarly, Dhondiba Ghondke narrated that he too was told to look for another school for his granddaughter Paragati, who is studying in Standard VII in the same school.
The authorities at tribal development department said that currently the process of consolidation of students and closing down ashram shalas where number of students is less is being implemented in Nashik, Nagpur, Amravati and Thane divisions of the tribal development department. A top officer told Sakal Times that it is a routine procedure, which is implemented by the department every few years to ensure optimum use of resources. The officer claimed that the students will be accommodated in the nearest ashram shala where there are better facilities. Dhondiba Ghondke told Sakal Times that he is unwilling to send his granddaughter to another ashram shala, which is located 15 km away as he afraid of sending her to a far off school.
Incidentally, tribal development department submitted its say to Bombay High Court on Thursday stating that the process of consolidation of students is being carried out at ashram shalas in the State.
This information was shared during a hearing of writ petition filed by activist Ravi Talpe in the Bombay High Court in 2013 regarding deaths of children in ashram shalas. The High Court has ordered the tribal development department that the basic infrastructural facilities and residential facilities be provided to the students at the ashram shalas.
In January this year, tribal development department appointed a 11-member committee to analyse the deaths of children in ashram shalas and to suggest preventive measures. The government is considering a proposal to conduct a medical check-up of students twice a year by involving reputed hospitals. The tribal development department informed the court that emergency review group, medical and social review groups have been formed and the committees formed under the district collector have been asked to take a review of deaths of children at ashram shalas after every three months. The department told the court that the advertisement to recruit superintendents has been published on July 7. The department also told the court that the contract to appoint security guards and conservancy staff will be awarded to a private agency.
Reacting to the department’s decision to close down ashram shalas, Ravi Talpe said that this is a cruel step considering the future of tribal students studying at different ashram shalas. He added that it’s a racket to benefit private English schools. He added that citing less number of students, the department is purposely closing down ashram shalas. He added that this is in tandem with the department’s scheme to transfer 25,000 students to private English medium schools. He added that similarly two years ago, similar steps were implemented by Zill Parishad and several schools were closed down in tribal belts citing the fewer number of children. Talpe added that activists like him would oppose such steps.