Crumbling Walls & Leaky Roof, Utkalmani Gopabandhu Das’ Odia School In Kolkata Cries For Attention
Kolkata/Bhubaneswar: Situated in Bhowanipore in southern part of Kolkata city, an Odia medium school set up by Utkalmani Gopabandhu Das in 1928 is lying in shambles.
The school— struggles to keep itself afloat owing to the lack of infrastructure and a building of its own. Running from a dilapidated rented building, the Bengal government-aided school has two segments—the primary and the higher secondary. While the primary school has been christened as Gopabandhu Shramajibi Vidyalaya, the higher secondary school is known as Gopabandhu Vidyalaya.
The primary school has 45 students and 5 teachers and the higher secondary segment has about 100 students on its roll and nine teachers. Step inside both the school premises, and one is greeted with crumbling walls, damaged ceilings, broken furniture and rainwater seeping from the cracks.
The primary school has barely any space left to accommodate more students if physical classes are resumed. Surprisingly, families stay on rent on the same floor, where the primary school exists with only two classrooms.
When Utkalmani was pursuing law in Kolkata (then Calcutta), he experienced the atrocities inflicted upon Odia people, who had migrated to the neighbouring state in search of livelihood. For the welfare of the Odia labourers, he had set up the primary school at a garage in Padmapukur area in 1928. Later, the school was shifted to Bhowanipore. Utkalmani named the school Sramajibi Vidyalaya as it drew Odia daily wage workers. In the 80s, the high school was set up by a group of Odias living in the city as a tribute to Utkalmani.
“Former Chief Minister of Odisha Biju Patnaik had also donated about Rs 10,000 to the school,” said Bijoy Patnaik, the teacher-in-charge of the primary school.
After cyclone Amphan, the school’s building deteriorated further. “The Kolkata police and local administration have marked the building as unsafe after Amphan. The police pasted a poster on the wall of the school building, marking it to be unsafe,” said Suresh Chandra Das, teacher-in-charge of Gopabandhu Vidyalaya.
“During the Left Front regime, the higher secondary school’s building was released by the government and given to the owner, who then gifted the ground floor to the school. But, the person who bought the other two floors later, had been creating hurdles for the school. As the school lacks a building of its own and proper infrastructure, parents hesitate to send their children here. The student strength has been declining,” said Das, who also insisted that the school didn’t have funds to repair the building or arrange a separate campus for itself.
In July this year, Odisha School and Mass Education Department principal secretary Satyabrata Sahu wrote to his West Bengal counterpart Manish Jain, urging him to take immediate steps for renovation of the high school premises. Following the intervention of the Odisha government, about Rs 1 lakh was released by the Bengal government for the repair of the school.
A portion of the school has been repaired. But, the majority of the school’s building needs renovation. “The Bengal government has assured us of releasing more funds. But, as of now, due to the upcoming civic polls, nothing has been done in this regard,” said Das.
The primary school had also received funds worth Rs 2 lakh for repair. “But, the main problem of the school is that the building itself is very old. It may collapse any time during a natural calamity,” said a staff of the primary school, requesting anonymity.
There are at least five Odia medium schools in Bengal.