Mumbai: Over 120 pre-nursery and kindergarten pupils at Dunne's Institute in Colaba, many as young as three years of age, have been inadvertently exerting themselves to an unwieldy feat of physical exercise every morning. Bulky bags on their small backs, they trudge up five floors to attend class every day. The lift in the school's building has been out of order for a month.
The school runs its pre-primary sections (playschool, nursery, lower and upper KGs) on the fourth and fifth storeys of the K R Cama Oriental Institute building, opposite Lions Gate, Colaba. Although the school has offered to bear half the cost of the repairs, apparent differences between school authorities and the building's owners over footing the bill have not been reconciled. And the young ones, all aged 3-6 years, are getting crushed in the grind.
Since the glitch grounded the elevator, the school administration has been compelled to give holidays at regular intervals, leading parents to fret whether the syllabus would be covered before final exams are upon their wards.
Cuffe Parade resident Ramesh Rao said, "My 5-year-old daughter Stuti, a Jr KG student, has to climb four floors daily to her classroom with her 5-kg bag. She has been complaining of an ache in the legs. I have made several complaints to the school but in vain. For the last month during which the lift has been non-operational, the school has declared several random holidays, which is again worrisome since syllabus needs to be completed before the start of the final term."
Earlier the parents would drop their child outside the school. Now, many drop them to the classrooms. The school has put five peons to help the younger of the lot to classrooms, while others scale the staircases on their own.
MiD DAY witnessed the back-breaking clamber up to the classroom. Students, parents and peons were carrying school bags up 100-plus stairs. Most of them were exhausted upon reaching the class. It took a child 3-4 minutes to climb each flight of 12 or less stairs.
Another parent, Dhananjay Tandel, who stays in Colaba, said, "My 3-year-old son Shardul is in playschool, and his classroom is on the fifth floor. I pay a monthly fees of Rs 1,600 and have already expressed my dissatisfaction to the school principal." Ranjit Sanil, another parent whose two children are in the playschool, said, "My children are hardly 3 years old and have to climb five floors daily and this is happening every day for over a month now.
I have made a written submission to the principal asking her to sort out the issue soon." Mohammed Arif Phudinawala, whose son Abdul is studying in Sr KG has written a letter on behalf of all concerned parents, stating, "It is very difficult to climb up to the fifth floor for a child whose age is just between 3 and 6 years. My son has been falling sick and is complaining of joint pain. And with final exams due, and syllabus of the class if not completed within time as the school remains closed due to non functioning of lift is worrisome."
Dr Pradeep Bhosale, head of orthopedic department, KEM hospital, has a word of caution for parents and school authorities. "Both parents and the students may harm their spine and knee in the long run if they continue to climb staircases with heavy school bags. The load should be reduced. The school can provide locker facilities, so children do not have to carry bags daily. The parents should ensure that their children ingest calcium supplements and Vitamin C-rich foods to keep their bones strong."
School principal Charu Nautiyal said, "I am trying my level best to sort out the problem as soon as possible, but the onus of getting things moving is on the building landlords. We as tenants can only request the landlords to solve the problem. As the principal of the school I am also answerable to the parents, who have made numerous complaints to me. My communications with the landlords have not yielded any result yet."
When contacted, one of the building trustees, Mancherji Cama, said, "We are also distressed that the poor children are suffering. It is due to factors beyond our control. Our lift is almost 60 years old and it has been creating problems periodically. Unlike a private landlord, who can easily take financial decisions, we are a charitable trust and have to follow certain procedures, especially during fiscal ends, when we run short of finances."
Cama added, "Our lift maintenance people have given a quotation of over Rs 1.5 lakh for repair work, as the spare parts are very old and not easily available. And they gave no guarantee of how long the repairs would last. They suggested that it would be better to replace the lift, and accordingly quoted a price of Rs 6 lakh. Just last week, we had the all-trustees meeting and the lift issue was discussed. It was decided to go for a new lift instead of wasting money on repairs. And as an interim relief, if the school administration is ready to bear the entire expense of over Rs 1.5 lakh for repairs, we do not have any problem."