The Sardar Bahadur Amin Chand Senior Secondary School at Bajwara (Express Photo)
Students and parents on Wednesday organised a massive protest outside a 130-year-old government-aided school in Hoshiarpur district, which is being shut down to open an Armed Forces Preparatory Institute (AFPI) for Male.
Sardar Bahadur Amin Chand (SBAC) Senior Secondary School, which runs on 95 per cent government aid, is located in Bajwara. Its students on Wednesday blocked traffic on Hoshiarpur-Una road, saying they will not let the school be closed at any cost.
The Indian Express had in September last year carried a report on the future of this 19th century school, attended by students from poor and lower middle class families, being mired in uncertainty ever since correspondence between various government departments has suggested that an AFPI — the second one in the state after the one in Mohali district, may come up on the premises.
Parents claimed that the school authorities have been trying to relocate their wards to over half a dozen other government schools — which are located quite far away — before the beginning of the new session from April, and that no new admissions are taking place.
School authorities had earlier claimed that the school will not be closed and the AFPI will be provided additional land only.
The school was established here in 1889. Currently run by the SBAC Society and Trust, Bajwara, it was built on 14 acres of land donated by former Union Cabinet Minister Ambika Soni and her family. It has sprawling playgrounds amid a dense canopy of trees, while the historic school building has over a dozen classrooms, computer rooms, library, NSS room, laboratories and a recreation hall. A total of 576 students study here in classes VI to XII.
After the protest, activists of Bajwara School Bachao Andolan led by RTI activist Rajiv Vashishth his wife Sakshi, who is also an alumni, alongwith parents and teachers reached the spot. The activist also went to Chandigarh to meet senior education authorities and state Cabinet Minister Sunder Sham Arora, who is representing the Hoshiarpur Assembly segment and was in the session Wednesday.
Sakshi said that she along with other old students would fight to stop the closing of a school where several students from poor families study.
Protesters said they were not against an armed forces academy being set up, but questioned why the same can’t be opened anywhere else in Hoshiarpur on government or panchayat land.
When contact Cabinet Minister Arora said there was no proposal to demolish the historic school building as it will be utilised even if the AFPI is opened. He said he will take up the matter with Congress leader Ambika Soni and request to not to close the school.
School principal Ram Murti, who is also part of the school management, said that the correspondence about the opening of AFPI has been going on for the past two years but there was no communication from the government about the closing of the school. He said the students were being misled by some “political people”.
A correspondence of the PWD Department, Hoshiarpur, a copy of which is with The Indian Express, stated that the AFPI would come up in the next two years at SBAC SSS Bajwara at a cost of Rs 27.33 crore (to be spent by the Punjab government) on over 8 acres donated by Soni free of cost. Besides this around 2 acres and 4 kannals, which is the joint property of Bajwara villagers, would also be used to make a playground for the academy. The document does not mention what is to be done with the remaining over 5 acres which would be left after donating 8 acres and 7 kannals for the academy out of the total over 14 acres land with the school currently.