With the number of admissions dropping steeply, a school in Secunderabad's cantonment area has started an online petition on Change.org, demanding that the army reopen access to certain roads in the area. The army’s decision to shut off roads has made what was earlier a 800-metre ride, into an 8-km ride, dissuading students from coming to school.
"Valerian Grammar School was established in the year 1961 and is located inside Secunderabad Cantonment. It caters to the educational needs of the children of Defence personnel and surrounding areas. The school accords priority in admitting children of Defence Personnel even in midterms giving them concessions. It boasts of several distinguished alumni who are working in positions of responsibility in government and industry," the petition, written by school principal Y Bala Reddy, states.
"Unfortunately, LMA (Local Military Authority) has closed several roads in the cantonment which were used for decades by children and parents to reach the school. The road from Lakdawala Junction to Yapral, and roads from Hakimpet, Risala Bazar and RSI have been closed. These are all public roads which were open to public for more than a century. Because of this road closure children from Bolarum, Hakimpet, Alwal, Lal Bazar and Sainikpuri have to take long routes to reach the school, which results in delays and much more expenditure," the petition adds.
As a result of this, the school said that its student strength had dropped drastically from 2,200 to less than 800.
The petition also points to a letter issued by the Ministry of Defence in 2015, which directed Military Authorities to reopen roads in cantonments, but said that the LMA had not paid heed to the directions.
"We request you to kindly take immediate action to open the closed roads to public so that local people can have easy access to our school," the petition concluded.
Many users extended their support to the cause with close to 600 people signing it within two days of the petition being started.
"We are 110% with our brave Armed forces. But let's be conscientious and compassionate when crucial access roads are concerned," one person wrote.
"It is terrible that a 55-year-old school has seen its student strength drop by 65% because roads from Bolarum side are closed! Are students and their parents terrorists? Can't parents even aspire to get decent education for their kids? This petition deserves all support it can get," another person added.
Many people also reiterated that children were suffering to reach the school, and appealed to the LMA to re-open the roads.
Secunderabad was classified as a Category 1 cantonment, owing to its large civilian population, after the Cantonment Act of 2006.
The Secunderabad Cantonment Board (SCB) is a local municipal authority, that comes under the administrative control of the Ministry of Defence, and functions as a local self-government.
Half the members on the board are civilians, while the other half are military nominations. Meanwhile, the LMA is completely under the control of the Ministry of Defence, and civilians have no say over its decisions.
In December 2015, it was alleged by local citizen activists that 10 roads that the LMA had cordoned off citing 'security', were shut for a golf course.
In March last year, after a two-year battle, an RTI reply from the Defence Estate Office (DEO) revealed that six out of the 12 roads that had been shut in the Golf Course area belonged to the Secunderabad Cantonment Board (SCB).
This conflicted with the SCB's own admission in the Hyderabad High Court, that all the roads being shut, were A1 defence land, under the control of the LMA.
With the move, the army had effectively shut off access to civilians from several acres of land.
The citizens in the area are also presently embroiled in another army-civilian conflict over the closure of the Gough Road near AOC Centre.
The arterial Gough Road that connects several areas like Neredmet, Sainikpuri and Yapral to other parts of Hyderabad has been restricted by the LMA.
For close to three years now, the Army has been trying to block access of the road to civilians, with residents hitting back with several petitions and rallies, including a candlelight march from A S Rao Nagar grounds to Neredmet, where 1,500 people participated.
The road stands open for civilians right now, but only between 7 am and 10 pm.
While the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) is looking at an alternate road via Mahindra Hills and has asked for land from the LMA, the project is yet to pick up pace.