“I wasn't doing anything illegal on this land. They could have at least given us a day's notice," lamented Naresh Pal, who ran a tuition-cum-vocational studies centre for underprivileged children in east Delhi -- till before it was demolished by the city's Public Works Department (PWD) on 11 January.
Five days after the make-shift centre near Mayur Vihar Phase-1 metro station was demolished, remnants were strewn all around -- broken swing sets, paint brushes, a white board, book shelves, and even jigsaw puzzles and toys that young children used to play with.
The school catered to around 200 children who live in nearby slums.
“It was a makeshift school. If they would’ve given prior notice, I could have moved it to another place. But the PWD came in with four machines and demolished it, destroyed everything that we had built over years within three hours,” 29-year-old Pal told The Quint.
He said that the school was built in 1993 using sustainable material donated out of goodwill. In September 2022, Microsoft President Brad Smith and American actor-comedian Trevor Noah visited the school and inaugurated a weather lab, keeping in mind the challenges faced by a school run in the open.
Pal had reopened the school in 2020, right before COVID-19 hit. During the second wave, the school also acted as a primary health care centre, and even coordinated the supply of oxygen cylinders in the area, said Pal.
Meanwhile, a senior PWD official told The Indian Express that the anti-encroachment drive took place after orders were received from the PWD as well as the District Magistrate and added that more such drives are set to take place as and when orders are received.
The Quint visited the site where the makeshift school once stood and spoke to Pal; parents whose children studied in the school; and those whose livelihoods have been thrown open in Delhi’s biting-cold winter. Classes now continue without a roof and proper equipment but 100 percent attendance and enthusiasm.