WALKING 10 kilomtres to school and back is the kind of a thing that one has heard one’s parents and grand-parents complain about. Millennials, by and large, have had much easier with the opening of schools closer to homes and availability of school buses and other means of transport to reach school.
Ananta Doiphode, a 16-year-old boy from Velha taluka of Pune District, doesn’t belong to the lucky lot.
For the last three years, Ananta had to walk for four hours per day to access secondary education. He walked to school 11 km away from his home on foot and back, thus clocking 22 km six days a week. Most would find this routine tiring, Ananta did too. But he tried not to let the fatigue affect his studies.
He scored 82.80 per cent in Class X in the Maharashtra State Board results announced on Thursday.
“I would wake up at 4 am and study till 6. Then sleep for an hour before waking up and leaving on foot to the school,” says Ananta. After returning from school, he studied late into the night every day. “I knew it was an important year for me,” he says. Ananta is oldest among three siblings who reside with their mother in old, dwarfish mud-house. His father works as a waiter in a canteen in Pune and visits them once in a few month. The house is dark even during the day. There’s no fan in the house.
“I will go to Pune for junior college. I want to prepare for UPSC to become a civil servant,” said Ananta who is not happy with his performance. “I was hoping to score 90 per cent. I may have achieved that had I stayed at the hostel near my school. But we didn’t have money. Walking four hours a day tired me out,” he said.
The family stays in village Varghad in Velha tehsil of Pune District. The village is barely 60 km from Pune city but is located in the hilly part of the district that is topographically closer to coastal Konkan than plains of rest of the state. The village has a population of over a thousand but barely 50 families have stayed back, rest of chosen to migrate to cities to earn a living and have a better life. Children can study until Class VII at a Zilla Parishad run primary school located within the village. The closest high school where Class 8 to 10 education is available is in Panshet, 11 kms away. Ananta studied at this school.
He is one of the three students from the village – which has about 50 households – who walk to school every day. There’s a bus that connects Varghad and other villages on this route with Pune and can be used by children to go to the high school in Panshet, but the timings that are not suitable. In the mornings, the bus from Tekpol to Swargate (in Pune) starts at 5 am and reaches Warghad at 6.
“The bus service is not reliable. In the morning, the bus reaches Panshet very early and in the evening there’s no fixed time as it may arrive at 6 pm or 10 pm. Hence, students and others often choose to walk than to wait for the bus,” said Ananta’s mother. The students say that a lot of them can’t afford the monthly fee for the concessional pass for the bus. “The bus pass for boys is expensive about Rs 660 per month. For girls, it’s just Rs 30. Also, we need to go to Swargate (in Pune city) to make the pass, making it inconvenient and more expensive,” said Avishkar Pasalkar, Ananta’s classmate. Some days when the kids have money and if the bus turns up on time, they take the bus ride by paying cash. But that’s rare, they say.
As per Swargate Depot Manager of Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC), the reason they don’t run more services with convenient timings is due to lack of ‘demand’. “The buses in this area get very few passengers. The only service we run to Tekpol is suffering losses,” said D M Shinde.
Every other village in the area has the same story. Emigration to Pune or Mumbai has thinned out most of the villages in Velha as has been the case with other hilly tehsils in Mulshi, Bhor, Maval and Purandar. As families chose to move out of villages due to lack of livelihood opportunities as well as that of basic facilities, those who chose to stay behind face worse. Empty villages mean that government machinery finds providing them services, for example, a bus connection, more and more unaffordable. “The power supply is poor. It’s difficult to find a doctor. We have to struggle to get even the most basic amenities,” said Ananta’s mother.
The worst effect of the emigration has been on education of children in families which have stayed back in the area. Due to emigration, the number of students enrolled per school has gone down very every passing year. As per data obtained from Pune Zilla Parishad’s Primary Education Department as many as 60 primary schools run by ZP have been closed down in the district due to lack of students. Of the 3652 primary schools that were operational in the district in the academic year 2018-19, as many as 379 schools – mostly in the hilly talukas mentioned above – had less than 10 students; 143 schools had less than 5 students and as many as 14 schools had just one student.
“This obviously affects the quality of education imparted in these schools as most of these school are now run by a single teacher,” said an official with Pune ZP’s education department. The Zilla Parishad is mulling the idea of starting clusture schools – schools for a group of villages instead of running one in each – and making transport arrangements to enable the students to reach the school. “This idea faces some resistance from villagers as they do not want the village schools to close down, even if there are hardly any students to study there,” said the official.
At Shri Shivaji Vir Baji Pasalkar High School, Panshet – where Ananta is a student – there are many like him who walk several kilometres to school in absence of transport facility. “We have students who walk 10 kms to 22 kms every day. These are very poor people who can’t even afford the concession students passes. There are many villages which have no bus connection,” said Asha Kutwal, a teacher at the school.
Ananta’s teachers are hopeful of his future. They say – “He is the brightest student in class”. “He is an excellent orator.” And yes, he does all this despite walking 22 kms every day.