Ukeraa Investigation Exposes Samata School Operator Sanjel’s Misconduct : Tax Evasion, Unpaid Lease, and Absence of Agreement with Ward
Kathmandu: Samata Shiksha Niketan School, renowned for its affordable education priced at 100 rupees, has been discovered operating illegally in the Mahalakshmi Municipality of Lalitpur, Nepal.
Uttam Sanjel serves as the head of Samata, overseeing schools not only in Lalitpur but also in various other districts. In an investigation by Ukeraa of these schools, it was revealed that a significant amount of misconduct was taking place in most of them.
During the scrutiny of Sanjel’s activities under the banner of Samata, it was found that the 'Samata Shiksha Niketan' located in Ward No. 4 of Mahalakshmi Municipality in Lalitpur was operating without the necessary legal authorization.
In Lalitpur Metropolitan City Ward No. 17, 'Samata Niketan' had been operating on a lease for an extended period. However, the school abruptly relocated without settling the rent owed for the land. No taxes were paid to the local government either. The investigation by Ukeraa discovered that the school was moved from the Lalitpur metropolis to Mahalakshmi municipality without adhering to any legal procedures, including rent and tax payments.
Samata had previously asserted that the school operated with permission in Lalitpur district. However, under the Local Government Operation Act of 2074, the responsibility for regulating all aspects of school education now lies at the local level. This includes permissions, operations, management, and regulation of schools.
Despite Samata Niketan initially obtaining permission from Lalitpur district, the new law stipulates that the relocation process must be completed when moving a school from one municipality to another. However, this legal requirement was not followed by the school.
Samata should have operated under the laws of the respective municipality, it has been two years since the school moved, and the school has not provided any general information about the relocation to Mahalakshmi Municipality.
Chiranjivi Paudel, Chief Education Officer of Mahalakshmi Municipality, stated that, despite his three-year tenure, there has been no communication from Samata School.
Upon discovering that Samata School was operating within 500 meters of another school, a neighboring school complained. Paudel claimed that he tried to meet the principal of Samata, but the principal didn’t meet him.
"There is no record of Samata in any data of Mahalakshmi Municipality," he said, adding that because of this, the school is not legal for us.
The Classroom That Holds Students Is Like a 'Pigeon Cage'
When Ukeraa’s reporter reached the school premises of Samata Niketan in Mahalakshmi Municipality, the scene was disheartening. Building a school out of bamboo is the identity of the Samata. However, the newly built rooms were made of cement blocks.
Upon the reporter’s arrival at Samata School, located in Imadol, they found that the construction work at the school was still ongoing. The schoolrooms were found to be without windows and doors.
Samata’s school building, which looks like a ramshackle makeshift with small classrooms, was referred to as the 'pigeon house' by the locals. When the reporter reached the school, some students were seen studying in the room.
In the year 2078 BS, the founder of Samata School, Uttam Sanjel, inaugurated a new structure in Lalitpur with great fanfare in the presence of some famous artists.
The Mayor of Mahaxmi Municipality, Rameshwar Shrestha, along with Jiva Lamichhane, former chairman of the Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA), artist Hari Bansha Acharya, Kiran KC, and former Chief Secretary of the Nepal Government, Tirthaman Shakya, were seen at the inauguration.
In every event involving Sanjel, artists Madan Krishna, Hari Bansha, non-resident Nepali leaders Upendra Mahato, and Jiva Lamichhane are always present.
At the time of the inauguration, it was claimed that the school’s structure would be constructed within a year for 7 million rupees. However, it’s been more than two years now, and the school building is yet to be completed.
Since the then-mayor attended the inauguration, there were no questions about the legal side of it. People with lower economic backgrounds admitted their children to Samata. However, the school had not even completed the normal legal process.
According to Ram Krishna Bhandari, principal of Samata Lalitpur, there were 800 students in Gwarko (Lalitpur Metropolitan City Ward No. 17), but now there are about 500 students. He said that when they moved from Gwarko and came to Mahalakshmi, the local students were left there. He informed Ukeraa that there are 28 to 29 teachers and staff working together currently.
It was also revealed that an organization named Samata Global Senate had given 750,000 rupees to build a school building in Mahalakshmi. Sanjel had taken Madan Krishna Shrestha along with him to secure that amount.
Not Paying Tax but Instead Asking for Exemption
Ukeraa inquired with Principal Bhandari about the income and expenditure of the school. He mentioned that he was not aware of the support coming from donors for Samata, the amount raised from student fees, and the details of expenses; Sanjel is looking into these matters.
“It was very difficult to move here from there. The entire structure there had to be moved and brought here," he explained to Ukeraa. Since the municipality is not the same, there are other processes involved as well. We are looking into those as well.”
In the document received by Ukeraa, it appears that the petition signed by Principal Bhandari was addressed to the Ward Chairman of Ward No. 17 Gwarko and asked for a transfer recommendation. However, the date is not mentioned.
When contacted by Binod Maharjan, Ward Chairman of Lalitpur Metropolitan City Ward No. 17, he mentioned that since Samata has not paid any tax since its inception, the transfer process has not proceeded.
Samata has not yet paid any tax owed to the ward. Our ward residents are complaining that they have not even paid the land rent. How can I recommend the transfer process at such a time?' Ward Chairman Maharjan said.
to the documents received by Ukeraa, it seems that Samata has been operating in this ward since 067/068. And from the same year until now, it does not appear to have paid any kind of tax.
From business tax, environment tax, reinstatement tax, renewal, and even fines, Samata has to pay about $1 million worth of tax in the ward. Ward Chairman Maharjan says that they have not paid any tax so far but have instead asked for a tax exemption. The head of the education division of Lalitpur metropolis also confirmed that Samata has not paid any tax at the local level.
“The transfer recommendation to another municipality will only be provided once they settle things here, but they have not even paid taxes," said Mahendra Bahadur Kshetri, the head of the division. “When we talked about it, they said they would pay taxes once they raised money. However, it is not good to leave everything here unfinished and operate it there as well.”
Using Madan Krishna and Haribansha to Lease the Land
The landowner who leased the land to open Samata Niketan in Lalitpur is also trying to contact Samata operators. Samata rented the land from a local for 10 years.
After the tenure was over, the landlord refused to renew the agreement. However, Sanjel took famous Nepali artist Madankrishna Shrestha and Hari Bansha Acharya, among others, to meet the landlord.
The landlord informed Ukeraa that they had come to their house. The name of the landlord has been anonymized, as per his request.
Madan Krishna and Harivansh have a separate following in the Newar community. When these prominent artists from the country suddenly visited the house of an ordinary person, people from all over the village came to see them. In such an atmosphere, the landowner could not refuse to negotiate again.
According to the agreement, it was decided to keep the land in its original form.
However, Samata moved to another municipality without any process and without informing the family, leaving a mess behind.
"We had decided not to lease the land anymore; however, Madan Krishna came home with Hari Bansha. And again, an agreement was made for four years," he said. “They did pay the rent for the first 10-year agreement and also paid for four years; however, they are yet to pay the lease for the remaining two years.”
He said he has visited the school in Mahalakshmisthan many times, asking for rent money, but still hasn't received it. At the rate of 350,000 per annum, 7 lakhs remain to be paid. According to him, Uttam does not answer his phone now.
Samata now seems to have leased four ropani of land for 20 years from the local Biraj Bikram Silwal at Wachu height in Mahalakshmisthan.
The Ward President Says, 'I Will Close the School’
Before coming to Mahalaxmi Sthan, Samata had contacted the newly elected ward president, Amrit Khatri. However, when Ukeraa spoke to Khatri, he became very stern. He said that at that time, he thought Samata was a good thing, and when he was elected, he believed that a school like Samata should be given a chance.
"But now, I won’t let the school operate," he said.
He mentioned that he initially supported the school because everyone said it was a good school, but later, he did not like it when it came to light about the internal misconduct. Even after moving to Mahalakshmisthan Municipality, the school was found not to be paying any tax.
The school building is not up to standard. So far, no one has come to the ward to get a recommendation for its map.
Sanjel, in the name of education at 100 rupees, has been running schools in Kathmandu, Pokhara, Chitwan, Sindhupalchok, Melamchi, Nawalparasi, and other areas under the name of Samata Shiksha Niketan, but all the schools seem to be in a dilapidated state. Lately, Sanjel has also started running the hospital.
Samata Niketan appears to be in the name of a private company. He has used various influential people to garner support for cheap education.
Ukeraa will continue to publish a follow-up story on this.
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