Covid-19 impact: Boarding schools turn milk vendors in Jharkhand

Jharkhand’s some of the big boarding schools have turned into milk vendors due to peculiar challenges posed by covid-19 outbreak. These institutions, which have been shut down due to the pandemic are facing acute fund crunch due to their fixed monthly expenses, such as the cost of raising cows and horses, kept for milk supply and horse ride lessons to students.

Ranchi’s oldest boarding school, Vikas Vidyalaya, lost seven of its 120 cows due to unavailability of good quality fodder during the initial days of the lockdown.

Inaugurated by the first President of India, Rajendra Prasad, in 1952, the school is spread over a sprawling campus of 175 acres and houses 300 students and close to 130 school staff including teachers.

The institution has been rearing cows since its beginning about seven decades ago.

“Sudden lockdown brought serious problems for us. We have 120 cows which yield over 350 litres of milk daily for consumption by students and school staff. After the lockdown, we faced a serious problem of consuming the milk. Also, the cost of keeping such a large number of cows is enormous,” said school principal PS Kalra.

He added, “For initial three months, we used to make vedic bilona Ghee from these milk assuming that we could serve ghee to our students after reopening. It takes nearly 45-50 litres of milk to prepare one kg of ghee through this method. We sell it at the cost price of Rs 1700 per kg.”

“But, in July, some of the school alumni persuaded us to start supplying milk in Ranchi as they themselves were ready to purchase it. It all started from July 10 and now we are supplying milk in bottles to many households in about 70 colonies in Ranchi. But, it is just a temporary arrangement as we have already informed the customers that this supply will be shut once school reopens. With this, we are able to curtail our losses to some extent,” Kalra said.

According to the school principal, the cost of producing one litre of milk comes to around Rs 50. During the lockdown, the school faced another problem of procuring fodder for the cows. The prices of fodder had shot up by three times during the lockdown, further aggravating the challenge.

Another boarding school, Taurian World School, too, is facing similar problems as it keeps 65 cows and 15 horses.

“Boarding schools have a different set of problems than day schools. The number of staff in the former is three-four times higher than the latter. We have to keep the entire facility intact even when the school is closed. We can’t remove teaching and non-teaching staff. The fixed expenses are about 80-85%. The only reduction in our expenses came in the form of fuel cost and direct food cost during the lockdown,” said school owner Amit Bajla.

He added, “We have 65 cows. The dairy cost is much higher. We are presently selling milk in the local market. Our horses are lying idle.”

Bajla said that the school has incurred a whopping loss to the tune of Rs 15 crore in the last eight months.

Vidya Vikas Samiti, which runs a chain of schools, Saraswati Sishu Vidya Mandir, across Jharkhand and Bihar, has not faced much problem as they have less number of cows.

Samiti’s secretary Mahavir Singh said, “We have few boarding schools in Madhupur, Basukinath and Gumla. We have 22 cows in Madhupur and nearly 7-8 cows at the other two centres. We didn’t face a shortage of fodder during lockdown as the schools are situated near semi-urban areas in close proximity to villages. We are selling milk to local sweet shops. We incurred losses during the three months lockdown period. But, now it’s no loss, no profit.”

An association of 1,426 unaided private schools in Jharkhand has moved the Jharkhand high court challenging the government’s June 25 order which stated that private schools in the state were only allowed to collect tuition fee from students and instructed them not to charge other allied fees during the covid-19 pandemic as long as schools are closed.

Citing their woes, association’s president Abhay Mishra said, “Under the garb of government’s order, about 60-70% parents had not been paying monthly tuition fee since the outbreak of the pandemic. After running the schools for about nine months since then with the previous revenue earnings, we have virtually exhausted all our funds.”

The high court has sought the state government’s reply and fixed the next date of hearing in December.

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