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In Chiniot: Decades later, no sign of education at crumbling ‘school’

In Chiniot: Decades later, no sign of education at crumbling ‘school’

Copy from DAWN.Com

CHINIOT: A school building in Muhammadwala village of Tehsil Lalian is one of many examples of Education Department’s neglect and indifference towards its infrastructure and how it is abandoned only to be grabbed illegally later.

The two-kanal school building was constructed in 1992-93 on the land owned by one Zafar Iqbal. However, classes have not been started even after 22 years and the building has been abandoned by the department.

Due to lack of maintenance, cracks have developed in its walls, roofs and floors. It has now turned into an animal pen and store for some people. But neither the department nor the government seems interested in making the school functional.

Finally, land owner Iqbal lodged a case in the court of Senior Civil Judge Dildar Shah against the Education Department and the district government for the recovery of his land. He pleaded some government officials along with contractors had come to the land in 1992-93 and started construction without getting the land transferred.

He claimed he had been verbally told by the officials, whom he could not identify now, he would be paid once the building was completed. But even after two decades he had not been paid. He pleaded the court to direct the officials to return his land to him.

The judge directed the Education Department to resolve the problem.

The department checked its record but found nothing regarding the building. Both deputy district education officers, Ghulam Shabbir and Memoona Jabeen, claimed the school building had neither been handed over to them nor had any classes started.

At this, the Education Department wrote to the Buildings Department, which is responsible for the construction of government buildings, to check their records. Interestingly, building departments of both Chiniot and Jhang districts said they found no record of the construction.

If the department mandated to construct buildings for all government sections did not have any record, who constructed the school building?

An inquiry into the matter was ordered to District Education Officer Wasima Zahid who visited the site, interviewed locals and submitted a report that the entire village could have swept away during the floods of 1950 and the building constructed after that for a school but not utilised.

Land records with the Revenue Department showed the piece of land was still owned by Zafar Iqbal and yet to be transferred to the Education Department.

Keeping in view the situation, the Education Department decided to sell building material and return the land to its owner. But the Buildings Department estimated auction price for the material at Rs177,300. The auction was attempted thrice and it only attracted Rs75,000, Rs75,500 and Rs80,000, which was less than the official value of the material.

The Education Department asked the local audit fund director if it could sell the material for less than the estimated price. They were told that under the new local government system, the district coordination officer was empowered to approve such rates.

There are a number of such buildings that had been constructed for schools but the Education Department never owned them on the pretext that they were not “handed over” to them.

Punjab Teachers Union District President Safdar Kalru claimed there were dozens of schools whose land had been donated verbally by landlords and their transfers not documented with the Revenue Department. If this land was returned, it would set a precedent for others who could claim their pieces of land that now valued at millions.

He criticised ad hoc policies and political considerations in construction of buildings without need assessment and completion of formalities.

Executive District Officer (Education) Mansha Mew said he had recently taken over charge and sought reports regarding all such buildings. He said a school building must only be used for education purposes and that he would ensure all schools carried ownership documents of their lands.

Citizens demanded Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif save the school building from being sold and provide it as an additional campus to existing primary schools after completion of formalities.

Malik Siddiq, an educationist and a retired senior headmaster, suggested a Building Management Information System be devised to mark every building or block of all government buildings, unique codes assigned to them so that redundant buildings become part of database and all official buildings must produce ownership slips to avoid litigation.

Land owner Iqbal said he had demanded back his property whose market value was now Rs2 million. He demanded either the land be returned or its market price paid to him.