A year after dna front-paged plight of children from Kalamboli village in Bhiwandi tehsil in Thane district, barely two hours from Mumbai, who have to strip to their undergarments and swim across choppy waters of the Bhatsa river with uniforms in a polythene bag, the authorities have still not woken up.
With no bridge, all the children who want to pursue education beyond Std IV are forced to undertake this arduous route as the local zilla parishad school is only from KG to Std IV.
Parents are not sending their children for the R-Day celebrations. “It’s too much trouble to swim across the Bhatsa and go to school. Even a day without running that risk means less anxiety for us,” says Ratna Thakre, 27, a resident whose son Pravin is a Std VI student in the zilla parishad school in Khadavli across the river.
Perhaps their fears are justified. After all, the Bhatsa has claimed lives every year. The monsoon before last, Gavhshya Bhoir, 12, died while returning from school after Independence Day celebrations. “He kept insisting on going to school and his parents gave in. He didn’t want to put the paper flag in a bag as it would get crumpled. As he struggled to hold the flag, he was washed away in the swollen monsoon currents,” recalls village headman, Rambhau Patil.
Having been witness to the practise for dances and songs for R-Day programmes, Pravin feels differently. “We never get to participate in anything,” he complains, ignoring his mothers attempts to pacify him. “It’s not like I don’t understand his excitement at being with his classmates and sharing the snacks served at the end of the celebrations. But we’re doing this for his own good,” she offers and adds, “He’s lucky he gets to go to school at all.”
The son’s outburst has hit a raw nerve in this SSC-pass mother who’s been forced to make her daughter drop out of school after Std IV. “In today’s times, girls need education more than boys, but because of the river-crossing involved, like my elder daughter Sunanda, most girls drop out.”
Her neighbour Deepa Palvi, 19, who tried to calm her, told dna, “It’s not like we don’t want to study and take up jobs. But how can we strip and swim like the boys?”
With no state transport buses and the journey from village to the highway and then to the other side being 25km, the over 500 locals seem to have no choice but to risk their lives daily.
The sick, too, are caught in a bind in emergencies; 18-year-old Satish Palvi should know. This diploma in travel & tourism student remembers the night their mother, Shevanti, fell ill five years ago. “She couldn’t sit on a motorcycle. By the time we got an autorickshaw, it was too late. She was declared dead on arrival at the Bhiwandi’s Indira Gandhi Hospital.”
The headman showed dna a file of several reminders to authorities (tehsildar/collector/MLA/MP) about getting at least a foot overbridge across the river. “Nothing has come of it. Perhaps our lives and deaths hardly matter even in election year,” he complained bitterly.
Local MLA Vishnu Sawra of the BJP alleges the government is sitting on a proposal for a foot overbridge despite the issue being raised in the assembly since the area is represented by the BJP. “I’m always told by the public works department that there aren’t enough funds to build a bridge for only 500 people.”
Rubbishing claims that fund allocations were made on political lines, Thane district collector P Velarasu said the district administration had cleared over Rs50 crore for bridges in the district. “I will have to find what’s happening in this case,” he said without being able to explain why a year had passed by since he said this last.