Grabbers feast on Dhaka schools
Gendaria Mahila Samity Govt Primary School has over 1,650 students but its compound is so small that just a 10th of the children face difficulty in playing in the ground during recess.
Children cannot walk three abreast in the narrow passage from the gate to the main building. "We cannot even do students' assemblies properly due to space shortage," said Riaz Parvez, head teacher of the school.
It was not supposed to be like this since the 66-year-old school owns 37.36 decimal of land.
However, only around 12.5 decimal is in its possession. The rest of the land has been under the illegal occupation for a long time.
Occupying three decimal of the school's land in the front, Gendaria Mahila Samity constructed six shops and rented them out. Two organisations -- Shimanta Khelaghar Ashor and Shimanta Library -- are running their activities on the school land building their own walls, according to a report of a sub-committee of parliamentary standing committee on primary and mass education ministry.
For a long time efforts were being made by the authorities to evict the illegal occupants but to no avail. Members of the sub-committee visited the school around a year and a half ago and had recommended in its report to evict the shops, but that too never happened.
"We're facing extreme difficulties due to the shortage of classrooms. The standing committee even recommended constructing a new building but that could not be done due to lack of land," said the head teacher.
This school is one of the 23 state-run primary schools in the capital whose land have been illegally occupied and the sub-committee visited, said the district primary education office (DPEO) of Dhaka.
The DPEO submitted a report to Directorate of Primary Education (DPE) on March 30 with “progress” about its efforts to recover land.
The Daily Star correspondents visited four such schools earlier this month and found the land of the schools was still under the occupation of government bodies and influential people.
ALMOST NO PROGRESS
In September, 2014, the then Dhaka district primary education officer submitted a report to the primary and mass education ministry saying that land of 54 state-run primary schools had been occupied illegally.
Later, the sub-committee of the parliamentary standing committee visited 23 schools in December that year and in January last year as these schools had more problems than the rest, Shaheen Ara Begum, district primary education officer of Dhaka, told The Daily Star.
The sub-committee led by AKM Zahangir Hossain MP submitted its report with findings and recommendations. It has held four meetings so far and asked DPEO in its last meeting in December last year to come up with a progress report on the recovery of land.
But the actions, in almost all the cases, were limited only to sending letters to different offices, according to the March 30 progress report. The report mentioned that some portions of land of three schools had been recovered.
"It takes time since recovering land is a long process. But many progresses have been made," Shaheen Ara told The Daily Star.
Some sensitive and public interest issues were involved and that was why they had to move slowly and carefully, she claimed.
Dhaka Wasa, for example, installed water pumps on school land and those cannot be removed immediately. In a few places the land were being occupied by slums of Urdu-speaking people, she said.
Visiting Gendaria Mahila Samity Govt Primary School, it was found that the classrooms were crammed with children.
Due to the classroom crisis, the school authorities built two small classrooms on the compound. "But that too was inadequate. Notices were served and letters were sent, but nothing happened," said head teacher Riaz Parvez.
The sub-committee in its report said educational environment was being hampered. It recommended demolishing the shops and breaking the wall between the school and Shimanta Library.
Contacted, Kazi Sultan Ahmed Tokon, general secretary of Shimanta Library, claimed the government allotted the land for Shimanta Library in 1964. Shimanta Khelaghar Ashor is an organisation of the library, he said.
He said the school authorities were falsely claiming that they own the entire land showing fake mutation papers. "They showed the fake papers to the ministry [sub-committee] and convinced them," he told The Daily Star.
Despite repeated attempts, this newspaper could not get Gendaria Mahila Samity's comments.
The DPEO only sent a letter to the deputy commissioner to evict the shops.
"We've sent a proposal to DPE for construction of a new building as per the recommendation of the sub-committee," said DPEO Shaheen Ara.
The case of FKM Government Primary School is deplorable.
Privately-run Bangshal Girls' High School authorities started using the classrooms of FKM in 1988, following a government temporary permission.
The Bangshal school uses 26 rooms on the first and second floors of the primary school, according to the sub-committee report.
The school even introduced a primary section without approval, disrupting the academic activities of the FKM school, said the report, recommending shutting down the primary level operations of Bangshal school.
It suggested that the possession of the first floor be returned to of FKM school.
But the suggestion remains in paper only.
The Daily Star found FKM running academic activities in six shabby rooms on the ground floor. There are six shops at the entrance to the building.
"We struggle to accommodate 260 students in six rooms. But when it rains the floor of the school corridor and classrooms go under water," said Kazi Laila Akhter, head teacher of FKM Government Primary School.
"We've repeatedly requested the [high] school authorities to vacate at least the first floor, but they didn't pay any heed," she said, adding that the high school authorities occasionally rents out the hall room on the third floor.
Mizanur Rahman, acting headmaster of Bangshal High School, refuted the allegations.
"We want to give them the first floor, but who will compensate us. We spent money for constructing the floors," he said. The school land is a Waqf property and therefore they have the same rights like that of the primary school, he claimed.
Again, the DPEO sent letter to DPE to write to Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education for shutting the primary section of the Bangshal school and handing floor over to FKM.
"We've sent letters to deputy commissioner for evicting the shops," said Shaheen Ara.
Suritola Model Govt Primary School in Old Dhaka has some other problems. The school was in the list of 54 schools, but was not one that the sub-committee had visited.
Apart from a water pump set up by Wasa on its land, the authorities of the privately-run Ramna Railway High School, now renamed as Suritola High School, holds classes on the third and fourth floors of the school building.
In 1989, the government acquired the land on which Ramna Railway High School stood, near the Osmani Auditorium. Following demonstrations by teachers and students, the government allowed it to temporarily hold classes in Suritola primary school.
But they never got their own place.
"As per the government rules, our school schedule is from 7:30am to 2:15pm, and Ramna school starts after noon. Due to conflicting school times, we need to share the classrooms to accommodate students of both schools," said A Rahman, head teacher of Suritola primary school, which has around 928 students.
"No doubt, Ramna school is an education institute where children of this area are studying. But running the schools together is a problem. We want the government to change the school timings for the benefit of students of both schools," the head teacher said.
An influential person has built a five-storey building on a portion of the land of MA Alim Govt Primary School in Sutrapur.
On the other side of the school compound, the four-storey building of the school has eight rooms.
The school has no room for playground.
The sub-committee recommended filing a case with the land tribunal.
The DPEO only asked the thana education officer to file the case.
Some Urdu-speaking people constructed rooms on 30 decimals of a 36-decimal plot belonging to Shahin Govt Primary School in Mohammadpur, the progress report said.
The sub-committee suggested making a list of them before evicting them. The DPEO only served a letter to the local ward commissioner to this end.
Nazira Bazar Govt Primary School, Chhoto Katra Govt Primary School, Shishu Shikhkha Samity Govt Primary School, Bangla Bazar Govt Primary School, Gabtoli Govt Primary School, Pallabi Govt Primary School, Bonoful Govt Primary School, Abdul Mannan Govt Primary School, Khalilur Rahman Govt Primary School, Taltola Govt Primary School, Borabo Govt Primary School, Dhanmondi 1-no Govt Primary School, Motijheel Govt Primary School, Dilkusa Govt Primary School, P & T Govt Primary School, Khilgaon Staff Quarter Govt Primary School, No-37 Dharmik Para Govt Primary School, Matuail Paschim Para Govt Primary School, and Brahman Chiran Govt Primary School are on the list of schools whose land had been occupied by government bodies or influential individuals.
Sub-committee chief AKM Zahangir Hossain said, "We've asked them [DPE and the ministry] to give a follow-up report about the schools in the next meeting [of the standing committee] either end of this month or on early next month. Getting the report, we'll take our next step."