Remote location, lack of funds blamed for neglect of centre

On the wind-battered hill top of Parappaara in Thalakkulathur panchayat here, an isolated two-storey building painted in dull yellow stands alone. Around the edifice, the burnt after-taste of a bush fire hangs in the arid air.

Stray dogs hold fort in the building’s narrow corridor. Broken, dusty window panes hide the dust and disuse within. Inside, rows of books rest on shelves on the wall, a few steel benches and plastic chairs are piled up in a corner. A green creeper has ambitiously weaved its way through a broken window and is hanging mid-air in search of a support to wrap itself around.

Someone has pulled out the fuse in the electric meter box outside, rendering a solitary desktop computer and its companion internet connection on the first floor without use. Anyway, the way upstairs has been shuttered and padlocked.

First in State

The building is the first Vijnana Vadi in the State. The scheme was inaugurated in August 2011 by the Minister for Welfare of Scheduled Castes (SC) and Backward Classes A.P. Anil Kumar amidst much fanfare here on this very hilltop.

The Vijnana Vadi scheme is meant to reach out to youths belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes, to provide them the fundamental right to equal opportunity in the world as enshrined under Article 14 of the Constitution.

According to Regional Deputy Director, SC Development, P.U. Muralidharan, the scheme is meant to give a dedicated space to these youths residing in remote areas, give them access to books, periodicals and the internet in an effort to open their world to the best academic and employment opportunities at their own doorsteps.

Ironically, in the case of Thalakkulathur centre, his officials cite the remoteness of the building’s location as the very reason to justify its present state of neglect.

“Agreed that the scheme was meant to cater to youths in remote areas, but reaching the building is so tough. It’s quite a long walk up a hill,” a Scheduled Castes Development department official said.

No thought is spared for the SC population of over 50,000 scattered around the panchayat’s hilly landscape of Chengottumala, Idinjimala and Eriyodumala.

“Initially, whenever the building was opened, young people would flock there to read and use the computer even if it was for two days a week,” P.T. Prameela, Thalakkulathur grama panchayat president, said.

Sasi P.A., District Officer, SC Development, dismisses the neglect as mere ‘teething problem.’

New centres

“The scheme is very much alive. We are planning to start new centres in various other panchayats. The problem with the Thalakkulathur centre is it is in a very remote place and difficult to access. The panchayats concerned have to run the scheme in their respective areas,” he said.

But Ms. Prameela lobs the ball back into Mr. Sasi’s court saying the “funds stopped and there wasn’t even enough to pay for a caretaker for the building.”

P. Mohanan, a local resident, said the building has been lying desolate for over two years.

“No one comes up the hill anymore. For us, the facilities and books were a window to a new world,” he said.

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