Tucked in the foothills of the mighty Dhauladhar range, 10 km from Palampur, lies Kandbari.
On a small passage surfaced with slate shavings, a board inscribed with the words 'Sambhaavnaa - action and discussion of possibilities in policy and politic' guides one to an institution coming up on 15.25-acre land, which was mired in a controversy recently. The institution is registered in the name of Kumud Bushan Educational Society, headed by anti-corruption campaigner and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader, Prashant Bhushan.
The state vigilance and anti-corruption bureaus had recently recommended that the state government confiscate the land as it was not used for the purpose it was bought for. The report was followed by a blame game between Bhushan and Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh.
However, the HT team visiting the Sambhaavnaa campus on Tuesday found three furnished mud-brick structures, including an administrative-cum-educational institution block, guest house for faculty and learning centre for children. Besides, a two-storey building was being constructed, which, the site manager said, was a hostel with accommodation for up to 35 students visiting the institution. "After the construction work is completed, the capacity would be increased to 45," he claimed.
Besides, a playground, yoga centre, administrative staff quarters and faculty houses are yet to come up, as pointed out by the vigilance inquiry.
Just a few metres away, a learning centre for children has been set up, offering facilities for recreational activities, library, music room, and physics, chemistry and biology laboratories. People managing the site claimed that children from Kandbari and nearby villages "regularly" visited the learning centre after school hours.
"The centre aims to be a space to ignite the curiosity and love of learning in children. We provide resources for overall development of a child's personality, with emphasis on values, performing arts, physical sciences, social sciences, and arts and crafts," said Ira Saxena, who coordinates the academic activities.
Besides, workshops are held once a week, she claimed, adding that in the past few months, workshops were held on topics related to science, social system, impact of hydro projects, eco-friendly architecture, economics, politics, land policy of resettlement and rehabilitation, finance, winter school for rethinking and India's water crisis.
A series of workshops titled 'Nayi Dishayanis' are held twice every year. The first one is one month-long, while the second is a week-long. Saxena added that these programmes provided an "opportunity to students to develop leadership values through open discussions, shared experiences and instructions" as resource persons from all fields interacted with them.
"The summer programmes are held in collaboration with other grassroots movements and organisations to introduce youths to various initiatives dedicated to the public cause, and to get firsthand experience and gain inspiration for deeper involvement. Applications for these workshops are invited online, and students are being provided partial and full scholarship," she added.
Besides, the institution is also involved in organic farming, and a part of the land has been converted for cultivation.
'No violation of rules'
Sarit, who is volunteering for the institution, claimed that an "issue had been created out of a non-issue, and no violation of rules had occurred".
"The concept that we are working on is different, so we think that we do not need affiliation from any university or board. Sambhaavnaa is a platform where one can rethink about various issues and activities that could be included in teaching," he claimed.
On the vigilance's charge that the construction work was not completed on time, Sarit said, "It is not possible to complete such a big project in just two years. We have created some infrastructure, while the rest is coming up. It will obviously take time."
Some administrative officials admitted that the vision behind Sambhaavana was "unique and the country needed such institutes".
"However, according to the state rules, it does not come under the definition of an educational institution. That is the only problem," said an official, on the condition of anonymity.