KARACHI: A spooky silence welcomes the visitors at an under-construction school in Tando Mohammad Khan. The boundary wall is deprived of a gate leaving the premises open for anyone to enter. This is the Government Public High School Tando Mohammad Khan, which has now entered at least 10th year of its construction.
The complex, which comprises two academic blocks, an auditorium, a canteen, and a hostel for boys, is spread over several acres. The academic blocks themselves are gigantic, and can accommodate hundreds of students at a time.
Official negligence, however, has been a major hindrance to the completion of the project. The school has been built over a land where saline water stands above the surface, ruining the structure even before it is completed due to seepage.
A local schoolteacher and social activist blames the government for the wrong planning. “The land selected for the project is not suitable for construction because of the salinity, you can see that the plaster and paint is already coming off the walls,” he says.
The project was first tabled when Arbab Ghulam Rahim of the PML was chief minister of the province. Since then, two more provincial governments have completed their tenure, but the school remains in dilapidated condition, and there’s no sign that it will be completed any time soon.
The building that was to serve as the hostel is inhabited by stray dogs whereas weeds and long grass block the entrance to the building. The wooden doors of rooms-and-toilets-to-be in the hostel are also missing and the walls are full of obscene drawings, graffiti, and political slogans, hinting at the kind of people the building is frequented by.
Same is the condition of the academic block, a massive two-storey building that is situated a few hundred feet away from the hostel and the canteen. The building has started to wear off while waiting for its completion.
The walls are full of marks of salinity and some of the rooms are full of construction material never used, while others are used as a dump site for discarded materials. Discarded packs of cigarettes and empty glass bottles are seen in abundance in the abandoned building.
There are recent signs of construction that include bamboo scaffoldings for supporting the newly-constructed parts of the building, but the construction workers are nowhere to be seen. A local journalist tells that this is due to extremely slow pace of work. “Nobody knows when do they come for working and when is the work carried out,” he says.
The main academic block is flanked by an auditorium that stands in a ground full of water — like an island in the middle of a water body. While it is tiled and painted from outside, the interior sports a deserted look, completely different to what it looks like from the exterior. At several spots, the auditorium walls already show cracks, which tell a thing or two about the quality of the work undertaken.
No promise fulfilled
The teacher says that the district has seen several changes in administration and elected representatives, but no administration has fulfilled its promises of completing the project. “The local teachers and civil society have met the elected representatives and administration officials several times but to no avail,” he says.
Syed Aijaz Hussain Shah Bukhari, a PPP lawmaker who has recently completed his five-year term from PS-53 Tando Mohammad Khan, the constituency that the school — or its skeleton — is in, talked about the hindrances that the school’s construction is facing in great detail. He ran again for the provincial seat PS-68 Tando Mohammad Khan-I, which he has won.
When contacted, Mr Bukhari listed some of the problems hampering the construction process which included lack of funds and repeated change in administrations. “Last year, we didn’t get enough funds that were required for project’s completion whereas the cost has ballooned by several folds due to delays,” he said.
‘School will be completed by next year’
When asked about why the project had been delayed for as much as 10 years, he said that part of it was due to a vacant post of XEN Education Works Division, which had been vacant for two years in-between. “Now we have a competent officer in place since last one year, and he has promised that the school will be completed by next year,” he says. However, he expressed the hope that the school would be open for pupils in 2019 and start its operation.
He said that increased interest of anti-corruption bodies in the project had also given rise to the tendency in government officers to not touch the project out of fear of probes. “If the government officials have this constant threat of probe hanging over their heads, how will they be able to work properly?” he asked, adding that the new officer had promised its completion on time.
He also said that the water standing on the ground was not actually saline, but ‘just a seepage’ from a nearby land irrigated by a watercourse. “The district administration has served notice to the relevant landlord to plug the gaps which are causing the seepage,” he said, expressing the hope that the problem would be resolved soon.
It is worthwhile to note that Tando Mohammad Khan ranks at 93rd spot in district rankings of Alif Ailaan when it comes to education infrastructure. In the 2017 report of the education watchdog, T. M. Khan scored 26.33 in ‘Building Condition’ category and 43.77 in aggregate, whereas district Tank in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa lead the country with a score of 92.27 in the same category, with 98.45 in aggregate.
Header photo by author: Academic block and auditorium of the school from a distance.
Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2018