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November 5, 2019

Sindh govt owes Rs19.7 million to owners of rental schools


November 5, 2019

Like many other school buildings, the Sindh school education and literacy department is likely to vacate by the next month the Sitaram Building, which has been housing for decades a historical educational institute — the JMB Government Primary and Secondary School –on Muhammad Bin Qasim Road opposite the Jama Cloth Market.

A few years earlier, the Sindh High Court had declared the building a private property and ordered the eviction of the school housed in it for the past many decades. The court verdict had come after years of the government’s failure to pay a nominal monthly rent of Rs282 to the former management of the institute.

As the government did not own the Sitaram Building, it also did not bother to spend any money for the maintenance of the building. As a result, several walls of it have developed cracks with the floor chipped at several spots. Perhaps, the derelict state of the school also played a role in the government losing the litigation over its ownership.

Architectural Design Research Lab co-founder Marvi Mazhar, who worked on a project on documentation and restoration of the building, has written, “The JMB Girls Secondary School was previously known as Sitaram Building which was built during the British Raj. It was initially used as a residence, later it was used as a school.”

The Sindh Building Control Authority has also listed the building as a heritage site while the Sindh culture, tourism and antiquities department has included it in the restoration projects of new cultural sites.

However, the JMB School is not the only historical school to which the Sindh school education department did not pay attention, and was eventually ordered by the judiciary to vacate it. There are a number of schools having a similar architectural and historical importance, the owners of which have not been paid rent long since.

Outstanding rents

Documents prepared by the Directorate of School Education Karachi for Elementary, Secondary and Higher Schools (ES&HS) reveal that the provincial government has not paid the nominal rent of 23 schools since as long as 1973.

The monthly rent of one of such schools, the Boulton Market Bombay Bazaar’s Government Girls Secondary City School, is merely Rs180 even today. Likewise, the rent of the century-old Jufelhurt School, which operates in two shifts, is only Rs204 per month but is unpaid since 2013. The school had made headlines in 2017 when a private contractor tried to demolish it.

At present, the outstanding rent of such schools in Karachi has risen up to Rs19.7 million. A majority of these schools include those which were nationalised under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Nationalisation of Education Policy 1972.

Later, General Muhammad Ziaul Haq’s regime handed over some of the nationalised schools, including those managed by the Christian, Parsi and Ismaili communities, to their previous private management.

“On March 29, 1972, ZA Bhutto, the then chief martial law administrator, had issued Martial Law Regulation (MLR) No.118 through which all the private educational institutions with all assets were taken over by the federal or provincial government,” reads a Punjab University’s research paper, titled ‘Nationalization of Education in Pakistan: Z. A. Bhutto’s Policy and Implementation’ and coauthored by Mahboob Hussain and Yawar Haroon.

The study further reads, “Under this regulation, government had nationalized 176 [institutes]. Among those 78 were in Punjab and 98 were in Sind.” However, as per the record of the Directorate of School Education Karachi, around 54 such educational institutes have been denationalised in the province since 1984.

As such schools were denationalized, a few owners agreed to receive a monthly rent from the government instead of reclaiming their schools. Unfortunately, the government did not keep its promise and failed to pay the rent, prompting the owners to approach courts to get their institutions back.

Students’ plight

“If former proprietors evict their schools through court orders on the grounds that the government was not fulfilling its responsibility of paying them, a large number of students would face problems in their studies,” said Taleem Bachao Action Committee Convener Anees-ur-Rahman.

Rehman pointed out that some of the owners of such schools had settled abroad and were not interested to come back to collect a little amount of rent. He called on the government to issue notices to the school owners with whom it had inked rent agreements in the past. If the owners were concerned for their schools and responded in a certain time period, new agreements must be signed with them, he said.

He lamented that when the government vacated such school buildings, it relocated those schools to far-flung areas where the students did not find it convenient to go and had to drop out.

In the recent past, the Aisha Bawany Trust took its school and college back from the government possession after the SHC had ruled in favour of the trustees. Since 2013, the court has been asking the Sindh government to vacate the premises of the Islamia College Building Complex where around four colleges and two schools have been operating since it was nationalisation.

Government’s stance

School Education Karachi Director Hamid Karim said that the Karachi schools directorate has forwarded many applications to the relevant authorities to resolve the issue of rental schools but no action has been observed so far.

He said since the owners have an easy access to the directorate, they come there and pass angry remarks without realising that the directorate is not the authority that could address their issue. “The officials of the school directorate are not the competent authorities to address the issue of nationalised and denationalised schools. Such an issue must be addressed on higher levels such as the Sindh Assembly and Sindh cabinet.”

— Infographic by Faraz Maqbool