Days after a Vizag school for children with developmental or intellectual disabilities was partially demolished and seized by civic authorities, the school management is in talks with the GVMC (Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation) to identify an alternative space for the school. GVMC commissioner G Srijana told IANS on Thursday that the school, named 'Hidden Sprouts', was demolished because it was an illegal occupant of the civic body's open site. Soon after the demolition of the school commenced on Saturday, parents of children who had been attending the school arrived at the location in MVP Colony to protest the GVMCâ€™s decision. The school, which has been functioning at the contested location since 2012, had around 190 students enrolled. It had been closed since mid-April due to the second wave of COVID-19.
Speaking to TNM, the founder of the school, Srinivas, said that around 190 children had been enrolled in the non-profit school, which admitted students across age groups and had students who were 5 to 40 years old. Children with autism and Downâ€™s syndrome were among the students of the school, which had been providing education, as well as mid-day meal and bus transport for the students for free, Srinivas said. He added that many of the students were from low-income families. â€śOne of the parents is a single mother whose husband left her because their child had an intellectual disability. Many of the parents cannot afford to pay for special education, and were reliant on the school, which is why it was heartbreaking for them and for us to see it demolished suddenly,â€ť Srinivas said.
While the GVMC has put forth a few options for alternative places for the school, Srinivas said that they were all too remote and not easily accessible by a bus route. â€śWe have identified a community hall nearby that would be more suitable. We will approach GVMC with that option and see if they will allow it,â€ť Srinivas added.
According to GVMC Commissioner Srijana, Srinivas produced a letter given to him by a former commissioner in 2012, of which the GVMC has no official record. "It was true that the school was running there. The structure is unauthorised. There is no record in our office as to that letter he was showing," she told IANS. Srijana said no construction is allowed in an open site, complying with the Supreme Court's orders and clarified that even if any kind of a construction was allowed, it can only be a park. Srinivas made a representation to the civic body to â€śextend the leaseâ€ť but Srijana contended that there was no lease to begin with.
The Commissioner said that every layout must have a certain portion of land as an open site which should be open to the sky, bereft of construction. â€śAs per Supreme Court's guidelines, there should not be any construction on an open site," Srijana said. "This is one of those reserved sites. Now that he made a representation to us, seeking extension of that supposed lease, I need to reply to him officially. Firstly, there is no lease, and I cannot give a lease now because it is an open site," the official asserted.
The school, which had reopened with limited capacity as the first wave of COVID-19 eased, had been closed again since February 2021. Commissioner Srijana said that 'Hidden Sprouts' was not a residential school, and this was the right time to free that space from this unauthorised occupation, as schools were not operating due to the pandemic. She said that GVMC had already served two notices to Srinivas to vacate the school premises. "Since there were no children and no running school there, we asked him to vacate the premises. Because we were not removing anybody from there. We were not closing down an actively running school," Srijana noted.
GVMC had offered an alternative space like a community hall prior to the demolition, she said. However, Srinivas said that many of the students had become accustomed to the space, and would find it difficult to adjust to a new space.
Several TDP leaders had condemned the demolition, accusing YSRCP leaders in Visakhapatnam of land grabbing. Former Chief Minister and Andhra Pradesh's opposition leader Chandrababu Naidu wrote to Chief Secretary Adityanath Das on June 6, calling the demolition â€śappalling and disgusting.â€ť Seeking support for non-profit organisations â€śserving society in true spirit,â€ť he said that justice needs to be done to the children enrolled at Hidden Sprouts on an emergency basis. He also demanded that strong action be initiated against the officials responsible.
With IANS inputs