Mumbai: A city-based education organisation, which runs multiple schools and colleges in Western suburbs, is under the scanner for allegedly misusing three plots of land allotted to the school on lease by the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).
BJP's Versova Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) Bharati Lavekar, in a complaint to the civic body last week, alleged that the organisation, Children Welfare Centre (CWC), sub-leased parts of the land to a national chain of schools, while violating several other conditions of the lease agreement. While a BMC inspection team prima facie confirmed some of these violations, the school has denied all the allegations.
CWC had obtained two plots of land reserved for secondary schools at Yari Road on Versova, and another at Valnai Village in Malad, respectively in 1983, 2008 and 2002 on a nominal annual charge of Rs 1. While the organisation has been running a secondary school named, CWC High School, on one of the Versova plots since 1986, it subsequently added a pre-school section 'Fairyland', a junior college and a degree college on the same premises. Two more schools, each named 'Orchids The International School', which is a prominent brand of private schools, have been set up respectively at the other Versova plot and Malad land. The latter also has a law college run by CWC.
Violation of Lease Terms?
In her complaint to BMC Commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal, Lavekar alleged that CWC violated the terms of its lease by 'sub-leasing' land to Orchids schools. She has also alleged that is charging exorbitant fees from the students, instead of providing free-of-cost education to a certain number of students recommnded by the education officer as mentioned in the lease agreement. She also accused the organisation of undertaking unauthorised constructions at its school, building commercial 'banquet' halls and violating the norms pertaining to Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ).
"The permissions given by BMC's estate, education, building proposal and other departments should be cancelled and the Versova and Malad lease agreement with the organisations be cancelled, while taking action against the office-bearers of the organisation. The school should be taken over by BMC and used for providing free education to children," read the letter by Lavekar.
Following the complaint, the civic body sought an inspection of the three premises by officials from its various departments. While the inspection was undertaken on Monday, a report is yet to be submitted.
Civic officials Find Irregularities
However, two officials who were part of the inspection team told FPJ that they found the organisation to be in violation of several aspects of the lease agreement, including 6,000 sqft of 'unauthorised construction'. They claimed that the school's pre-primary section at Versova is being run at a 'temporary' shed built on around 6,000 sqft part of the land that was earmarked for playground. "The school had built it as a temporary arrangement while the construction of its main building was going on. However, this structure was never dismantled and the playground land was usurped," said an official.
The probe team also found that the school had made several illegal alterations in the building without BMC's permission, creating a fire hazard. The school also lacked a complete occupancy certificate, they found. While the inspectors noted the schools run by 'another' organisation on plots given to CWC, they are yet to confirm whether the land was sub-leased.
CWC Denies Allegations
Ajay Kaul, principal of the school, has refuted these claims. He said that the two Orchids schools are managed by CWC, and there's no other organisation is involved. He said that K12 Techno Services, the Bengaluru-based company that owns the Orchid brand, has only provided them with education software and equipment for the school. The management, in return, pays the company Rs 5,000 per student for using its services and name brand.
Kaul added running higher education institutes and pre-school doesn't violate lease conditions as they fall under 'educational and allied services' permitted by the lease deal. He said that the education officer has never recommended any students for free education, while claiming that he had obtained the necessary permissions for the temporary shed and other constructions.
"I have been running the institute for last 43 years. We have never received a single complaint in the past. So why suddenly this issue being created? Does the MLA think of me as an electoral threat? I don't have any plans to contest polls. If the justice is to be done, she should visit all the other schools and find the violations done by them," said Kaul.