Pune's 'Bhidewada' - site of India's first girls' school - razed for Phule Memorial

Pune, Dec 5 (IANS): Nearly seven weeks after a court verdict, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) early on Tuesday demolished the historic but dilapidated 'Bhidewada' in Budhwar Peth area – where India's first girls' school was started on January 1, 1848 – officials said here.

The old building which was in a sorry state, and armed with the court orders, the PMC's demolition squad along with a bulldozer and a huge security force, went to the Bhidewada around 11 p.m. on Monday.

After removing the boards of the existing shops and establishments, their belongings, completing all legal formalities, the bulldozer rammed into the fragile building and demolished it within barely a couple of hours at the dead of the night.

An official explained that the midnight operation was to ensure minimum crowds, avoid pollution, security hassles and traffic snarls, and clear up the debris before dawn.

The area was being cleared, flattened and smoothened this morning to start work on a grand memorial for the legendary social reformer couple – Mahatma Jyotirao Phule and his wife Savitri J. Phule.

Exactly 175 years ago, the Phule couple lit the first lamp for girls' education in the country by starting a small school in Bhidewada, despite strong opposition and protests, at the property then owned by Tatyasaheb Bhide.

Around 23 years ago, the PMC had passed a resolution to construct a monument to honour the Phule couple, but the entire matter got embroiled in a legal battle in different court with the current owner Pune Merchant Cooperative Bank and its 24 tenants.

From February 2006, the PMC started to acquire the small chunk measuring around 3,500 feet (327 sq.m.), and the District Collectorate even cleared a compensation amount of Rs 1.30 crore for the owner-tenants.

However, the present owners and tenants challenged the move, right upto the Supreme Court, which transferred it back to the Bombay High Court. Finally, on October 16, the Bombay High Court rejected the plea of the owner-tenants who opposed the PMC's plan to take over Bhidewada for the Phule national memorial.

The owner-tenants were ordered to transfer the ownership to the PMC by December 3, and as soon as the deadline ended on Sunday, the PMC took action on Monday morning.

On December 4, the PMC initiated the legalities to formally take over the premises and post-midnight bulldozed the old creaky structure – a lot of it came down on its own – and the area suddenly looked clear and bright this morning.

Last night, all traffic was diverted from the Shivaji Road, posters, signages and flags from the shops on Bhidewada were yanked off, shops were opened with gas-cutters and panchnama was carried out, as the workers started sledge-hammering the pillars, many portions automatically crumbled and crashed down.

As soon as the main building was reduced to rubble, waiting dumpers picked up the debris and sped off to the dumpyards and within hours all signs of the original Bhidewada were erased.

Officials indicated that soon, the work on the Phule national memorial will be initiated with a ground-breaking ceremony, tentatively on January 3, 2024 - the 193rd birth anniversary of Savitri Phule – at the hands of a prominent dignitary.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: q.najmi@ians.in )



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Title: Pune's 'Bhidewada' - site of India's first girls' school - razed for Phule Memorial

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