New Delhi: Eleventh-grader Sangeeta Singh avoids drinking water in school. The giant tank outside the main building of Rajkiya Sarvoday Balvidyalay in East Delhi’s Kalyanpuri is filled by municipal taps—but the water is not filtered.
Even in one of the largest schools run by the Delhi government—so big that there are two separate shifts—teachers advise the 3,900 students to bring their own water from home. “We can fall ill, so we have no other choice,” said Singh.
Delhi education minister Arvinder Singh Lovely says the government wants to change the face of these state-run schools with proper classrooms and better toilets within two years
Now, the government plans to upgrade the infrastructure of 200 buildings in New Delhi from where 318 schools operate, often in dirty, dusty conditions lacking basic sanitation and drinking water. The project, which will cost Rs258 crore, is expected to begin in three months.
IL&FS Education & Technology Services Ltd, the Rs80 crore education infrastructure development arm of the finance company, has been hired to design modern infrastructure for the identified schools in the populated eastern parts of the city, and in the north-east and north-west corners, where a majority of the poor live.
The project will be executed by the Delhi State Industrial & Infrastructure Development Corp. Ltd (DSIIDC).
The Delhi government has an education budget of Rs11,000 crore this year. “There has been a lot of improvement in academic performance. Within two years now, we want to change the face of these schools with proper classrooms and better toilets,” said education minister Arvinder Singh Lovely.
The cabinet is expected to clear the improvement budget within a fortnight.
About a million students attend 1,162 schools run by the Delhi government, separate from those run by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi or the Union government. On a double shift, Delhi government schools operate out of 652 buildings.
Nearly 30% of the classrooms have roofs made of asbestos sheets, posing serious health risks. Many don’t have toilet facilities, and not a single one meets new fire guidelines.
“Our focus will be on building physical infrastructure, correct structural weaknesses as well as include teaching aids in building design,” said Pradeep Singh, managing director of IL&FS Education & Technology Services.
The company, which offers integrated multimedia solutions for training students, is also assisting 152 Municipal Corporation of Pimpri Chinchwad schools in Maharashtra to train teachers in primary and secondary education and improve technology infrastructure. It is in talks with at least two other state governments for a similar education infrastructure building initiative.
According to R.K. Gupta, chief engineer at DSIIDC, the project aims to build more durable schools, as well as modernize their infrastructure.
“Various parameters such as earthquake resistance, fire safety and rainwater harvesting are being considered. We plan to renovate 472 toilet blocks and build 368 new ones. Blackboards will be replaced by green boards,” he said.
Delhi-based architects Pradeep Sachdeva, who designed the Dilli Haat market, and M.S. Satsangi have been hired as consultant architects.
Officials say Delhi schools’ woes stem from negligence and poor oversight from the Public Works Department, which has an annual budget of Rs70-75 crore to look after the school properties. With a shift towards privatizing maintenance contracts, the government in February tapped DSIIDC to handle some tasks.
Schools also receive a separate grant of Rs1.2 lakh for maintenance under a scheme called Vidyalaya Kalyan Samiti, a citizen-government partnership programme of the Delhi government. Members include a local legislative member, important citizens and school principals.
This amount has been increased to Rs4 lakh this year, but at least one administrator of an East Delhi school said, on the condition of anonymity, that it’s not easy to access grant, and the practice is riddled with corruption and bureaucratic red tape. “This is like a system within a system. If you follow the rule, things get along in a nice way, otherwise not. Many times you face objections and queries.”
While the government has the budget to operate schools, the challenge lies in how it can streamline disbursal of funds. Many say the larger problem rests in changing attitudes of the school itself.
On a recent afternoon, for example, a pile of garbage sits just a few metres away from the kindergarten classes at the Kalyanpuri school. The school has at least four sweepers, and the staff has a long wish list still.
“We need a hall to hold meetings and cultural functions. We also need cycle and scooter stands,” said Prithviraj Meena, principal of the Kalyanpuri evening school.
Schools said private contractors can make a difference. Satya Pal Yadav, principal of Government Co-education Secondary School in Vinod Nagar, said: “Certainly the school is much cleaner after we hired private sweepers recently.”