Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Campaign to save a 125-year-old school and its tree wealth

                            A view of Attakulangara Central School, Thiruvananthapuram

Here’s the recent history of a 125-year-old government school in Kerala.  
1,700 students in 1988
1,200 students in 1998
200 students in 2008
48 students in 2014
The school: Attakulangara Central School, Thiruvananthapuram. 

It is located close to the Sree Padmanabhaswami temple in the East Fort area which has been declared as heritage site.

The school’s list of former teachers includes celebrated Malayalam poet Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer (1877-1947), former Chief Minister Pattom A. Thanu Pillai (1885-1970) and well-known social reformer K. Ayyappan (1889-1968).

The school compound is known for its rich flora. Tree Walk, Thiruvananthapuram, which made a survey last March found about 60 varieties of plants there. A study by Warblers and Waders, Thiruvananthapuram, in April revealed the presence of 31 kinds of birds, including migratory ones, there.

I have drawn the above information from an article by S. Anitha in the latest issue of the Malayalam weekly Mathrubhumi (dated June 8, 2014). She is an active member of Tree Walk, which is spearheading a campaign to save the school and the trees around it which serve as a lung of the city.   

The school’s experience is symptomatic of that of many government institutions which have declined continuously over the last quarter century under successive governments. Now the authorities are looking upon the property of dying schools as real estate to be used for urban development projects.

Last year the Kerala government’s Revenue department issued an order directing the Education department, which is in possession of the school land, to hand it over to the Thiruvananthapuram Development Authority (TRIDA) to build a bus bay and shopping complex for the Transport department.

Tree Walk submitted to the government a document titled Green is Gold stressing the need to preserve the rich natural wealth of the school compound. It also suggested an alternative site for the bus bay and shopping complex. However, the government insists on appropriating the two-acre school compound.
The Tree Walk campaign is focused on the following points:
1. Maintain the historical, cultural and ecological space that the school is.
2. Find alternative spaces for development projects.
3. Evolve a holistic approach to development of the East Fort area which is a heritage zone and a public hub.
4. Factor in green lungs, open spaces, safe walkways, children's parks and de-stress zones into City development 
5. Form a panel to analyze the reasons for government schools becoming uneconomical and to improve the quality of education and increase enrolment, instead of closing them down and handing over the land for commercial purposes. 

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