The second phase of the Chennai Metro is currently under construction.
The 90-year-old Good Shepherd Convent in Chennai could lose a major part of its sprawling campus if the Metro authorities have their way.
The Chennai Metro Rail Ltd (CMRL) has issued a notice alerting the Good Shepherd Convent of its plans to acquire 3,590 square metres of land to build the Sterling Road Station as part of its phase-II network. This would result in the school losing its playground, stadium gallery and a junior block housing classes up to 5.
The school management has obtained a stay from the Madras High Court, which directed the Metro authorities to give them a personal hearing. However, the CMRL ultimately rejected their objections and decided to fight the school's plea in court.
The Good Shepherd Convent, in a communication, looked to the parents of its 2,500 students for help. "Under the circumstances, we request your implicit cooperation. We will be in touch with you as and when required," it said.
A senior member of the management claimed that the school has touched the lives of thousands of children over the years, and continues to mould good citizens. "We are one of the few Chennai schools with a good playground that helps children think big and develops them in a wholesome way. But the CMRL only views us as an easy catch. The Right to Education, it seems, holds no meaning for them," he said.
A parent recalled how the late J Jayalalithaa, during her tenure as chief minister, forced a change in the alignment of the Metro route when it threatened to run through the Anna Arch her mentor MG Ramachandran had built in the honour of legendary leader CN Annadurai. "In the same way, the Good Shepherd School is a part of Chennai's history and legacy. The Tamil Nadu government should intervene to save it," she said.
The commuters, for their part, were divided on the issue. While businessman P Sundar maintained that students should not have to suffer, another resident — M Radhakrishnan — said it was inevitable for somebody to pay the price for the "common good".
Chennai Metro Rail Managing Director Pankaj Kumar Bansal told NDTV that the CMRL will not go back on its decision to acquire the area. "There's no question of changing the Metro's alignment, but we are engaging an international consultant to explore ways to acquire the least possible extent of land," he added.
He said that although the Metro will be underground, it may not be possible to hand over the entire area to the school management after the project is completed. "It's a possibility in some areas, but since this is a station, we need land for the entry and exit gates — besides parking space," Mr Bansal added.
State Fisheries Minister David Jayakumar also asserted that the government does not intend to take away the school's land. "This is for a common cause, and hence inevitable. But we will ensure that the school is duly compensated. Only Metro authorities can decide if there should be a change in alignment, like the way it was done to protect the Anna Arch," he said.
(Disclosure: Two daughters of the reporter are alumni members of the Good Shepherd School in Chennai, but this has not influenced the report in any way.)