Survival first, schooling can wait

Government must order immediate closure of schools till March next

The devastation caused by the flood that hit Kashmir earlier this month is colossal, to say the least. It claimed hundreds of human lives and destroyed everything that came its way—residential houses, schools, colleges, hospitals, paddy fields, orchards, government establishments and businesses et-cetera. It has rendered hundreds of people homeless and jobless. The destruction around has left the entire society traumatized. As on date, the state administration is still in the process of undertaking de-watering operations in localities of Srinagar and elsewhere, leave alone taking care of the post-flood issues like rehabilitation of the flood-hit, estimation of losses to properties and infrastructure, necessary safety checks of flooded buildings, sanitization of submerged areas and/or making the city hospitals—including the vital ones—functional for treating the possible post-flood diseases or outbreak of an epidemic. So while the scale of devastation is huge, and involves all sections of the society, it looks not only bizarre but grossly absurd as well to let schools in the flood-hit Valley operate. And no sensitive government can afford this risk and lapse that is only jeopardizing the safety of the school children. And no considerate administration will prefer schooling to survival.

A report in Saturday’s edition of this newspaper stated the official figures on damage to school buildings due to the floods. Initial estimates have put this figure at 4600 in government sector and 1500 in the private. The concerned minister is on record saying the floods have “severely impacted the education infrastructure in almost all the flood-ravaged districts and some schools need to be rebuilt as they have collapsed or suffered extensive damage, whereas others need major repairs.” Alongside, another report in Sunday’s edition of this newspaper said the flood fury in Kashmir, according to the official figures, has damaged over 2.60 lakh structures. In the worst-affected Srinagar alone, 95000 houses have been damaged of which 61000 houses have been enlisted in ‘fully damaged category’ whereas the other 34000 houses have suffered severe or partial damage. In such a terrifying scenario, how does the Government justify allowing schools to operate? In no civilized society can a government be so callous. This callousness, while it is condemnable, throws up some vital questions for the government of the day: How can a child whose house has collapsed and is presently living in a relief camp make it to his institute? How can the parents, who are struggling to get their homes cleaned of the flood muck, get their children ready for the schools? How can they do it when the flood has hit even school uniforms and books of their children? And, more importantly, how can they risk the lives of their children by sending them to schools which, officially, have been “severely impacted and need major repairs?” And if a child falls ill in a school, where will you take him for treatment when even the Valley’s lone children specialty—GB Pant hospital in Srinagar—has suffered massive damage and is still to be made fully operational? What about the hygiene conditions in the flood-hit educational institutions? What about their fumigation?
The trauma around is disturbing for one and all. And while schools are being allowed to operate notwithstanding this trauma, it is raising genuine concerns among the parents vis-à-vis safety of their children. And the concern that their children are being ‘used’ to paint a rosy picture of the flood devastation is only attaining credence. It is no exaggeration that things are not normal in Kashmir post-floods. And if the functionality of schools is fixed as a ‘yardstick’ to this normalization, it’s grotesque. It’s simply playing politics over an issue that is essentially humanitarian and the children—who are the future of our nation—require to be spared of this petty politics.
The Government would do well to immediately close down all schools till March next in the interest of children’s safety. September is ending. October mostly happens to be the month of examinations. Given the enormity of the devastation around, it would be prudent to promote children, at least up to 9th standard, to the next level on the basis of examinations—like ‘Unit Tests’, ‘Term Exams’ and ‘Golden Tests’—they have appeared in so far. With regard to class 10th and 12th examinations—if the tests are deemed so necessary and the above criteria isn’t found viable—a via-media could be to cut down a good portion of the syllabus and hold these in March-April 2015. And this could be applied to higher education institutions as well. This can, in the long-run, offer an opportunity to change the existing examination schedule from winter to the onset of summer. And it has its own benefits.
For now, the Government must step in to close down schools without any delay. Survival and safety of children, after all, come first. Schooling can wait.
Centre preparing comprehensive policy on Kashmir: Rajnath Singh
New Delhi, Sep 28: A comprehensive policy on Kashmir is being prepared by the NDA government, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on Sunday.
“We are preparing a comprehensive policy on Kashmir. We will announce it soon,” he said. Asked whether there is any proposal to appoint an interlocutor for having dialogue with various stakeholders like those named for the northeast, Singh said there was no such move.
“I am not in favour of appointing interlocutors for Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
In a recent interview with a fortnightly magazine, the Home Minister had said the past practices of appointing interlocutors for Jammu and Kashmir must be discontinued as it was non-productive.
“Now the time has come to have a rethink on appointing interlocutors. Having said this, let me clarify that I am not averse to talks. But I am also not in favour of non-productive talks which are carried out by anti-nationals to burnish their own political image in either Jammu and Kashmir or the Northeast,” he was quoted as having said in an interview to a fortnightly magazine ‘Governance Now’.
Academician Radha Kumar, journalist Dileep Padgaonkar and M M Ansari had been interlocutors on Kashmir during UPA rule.
Singh said the level of infiltration into Jammu and Kashmir has come down to a great extent and security forces were strictly guarding the International Border and LoC.
The Home Minister earlier had asked the Jammu and Kashmir government to identify “suitable land” for the rehabilitation of some three lakh Kashmiri Pandits who migrated from the Kashmir Valley in the early 1990s.
The Narendra Modi government has committed itself to the return of some 62,000 Kashmiri Pandit families with “full dignity” to their homes in the Valley and has earmarked Rs 500 crore for this in the 2014-15 Union Budget.
Singh wrote to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah for allocation of “suitable” land for creating dwelling units for these families under the government’s plan for implementation of the rehabilitation scheme for migrants.

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