How Covid-19 killed the economy of Delhi’s ‘coaching colonies’
Delhi has hundreds of institutes providing coaching for IAS, engineering, medical and a host of other competitive exams in places such as central Delhi’s Old Rajender Nagar, north Delhi’s Mukherjee Nagar, Laxmi Nagar, and Jia Serai and Ber Serai in south Delhi, which together are home to about 1 lakh students.Updated: Aug 09, 2020 01:49 IST
Two years ago, Prateek Vats, 25, quit his job as a digital marketer to start Timple Tiffin Services in east Delhi’s Laxmi Nagar, a hub of coaching institutes for chartered accountancy and banking exams. He rented a place, hired four female cooks, and a delivery boy. Within a couple of months, business picked up, and he was delivering 300 tiffins every day, mostly to students living in hundreds of PG accommodations in the area.
In March, he was planning expansion when the Coronavirus disease broke out, leading to lockdowns. In April, he folded up his business.
“The students were suddenly afraid of ordering food from outside. By April, orders came down from 300 tiffins a day to just 10 tiffins. The Coronavirus has killed the economy of this student hub,” Vats says.
Vats is not exaggerating. A committee set up by the HRD ministry (now called education ministry) in 2015 pegged the annual turnover of the coaching industry at Rs 24,000 crore, and while Kota may be the coaching capital of the country—Delhi is not far behind.
Delhi has hundreds of institutes providing coaching for IAS, engineering, medical and a host of other competitive exams in places such as central Delhi’s Old Rajender Nagar, north Delhi’s Mukherjee Nagar, Laxmi Nagar, and Jia Serai and Ber Serai in south Delhi, which together are home to about 1 lakh students.
The economies of these areas have, over the years, come to depend on the mushrooming coaching centres, which have led to many ancillary businesses such as bookshops, PG guest houses, study libraries, binders, photocopiers, and students mess and tiffin services. With coaching centres remaining shut, the streets that were swarming with students not so long ago are now emptier than ever before. While many businesses have shut down, others are struggling for survival.
“I had to permanently close one of my three study libraries as I was unable to pay rent,” says Rajeev Nathani, who co-founded Tranquil Reading Zone in 2015 in Old Rajender Nagar, a resettlement colony, which transformed into a hub for IAS coaching in the past decade. A ‘study library’ is a large air-conditioned reading room divided into small cubicles for students, with a hotel-like reception area.
Over 200 such 24/7 facilities had come up in Old Rajender Nagar and other student hubs where one could see students, their heads buried in the books, till late into the night. Almost all of 15,000 students who lived in the colony have gone back.
“My daily sale was about Rs 80,000 per day; now it is down to Rs 8,000. About 20 book shops came up in the area in the past few years, and about four have shut as they were unable to pay rent. Even I had to close one of my two shops,” says Anil Kumar, who opened his first bookshop 10 years ago in Old Rajender Nagar, which has about 60 IAS coaching institutes. Kumar’s first was an instant success, encouraging him to open another in the same area.
With the continuing uncertainty about when they will be allowed to reopen, most IAS coaching centres have not started admissions, which in normal times take place between May and July for a nine-month course.
“We have been treated like any school and college by the government. The civil services is a syllabus-heavy exam and online education is not effective. We expect the government to find a way to enable in-class coaching,” says Arjun Ravindran, director, Vajiram & Ravi, one of Delhi’s oldest and much sought-after IAS coaching institutes. The institute, the first to arrive in Old Rajender Nagar in 1996, is credited with transforming the resettlement colony into a vibrant students’ hub.
Many coaching institutes across the city had to shed staff, including teachers. For example, ALS IAS Coaching Institute, in Mukherjee Nagar, reduced staff by 50%. “With no new admissions, and revenue falling to zero, we did not have a choice,” says Jojo Mathew, chief executive director, ALS, which had about 2,000 students at its Mukherjee Nagar branch and charged about Rs 75,000 for the course. In Old Rajender Nagar, which is preferred by English medium IAS aspirants, the fee in various institutes varied from 1 lakh to 1.5 lakh.
Hundreds of teachers in these institutes, who charged anything between Rs10,000 and Rs20,000 per hour, depending on their reputation, too, have lost income. Interestingly, most coaching centres were started by former IAS aspirants.
Mathew, who hails from Kochi, came to Delhi in 1994 to prepare for the Civil Services Examination. Having failed to make it to IAS, he turned a teacher and started ALS in 1998 in Mukherjee Nagar. “I had no intention of going back to my home town, defeated. I had cleared the Mains, and I thought I could as well teach. There were only a few IAS coaching institute in the area those days,” says Mathew. Today, Mukherjee Nagar has about 100 small and big Civil Services coaching institutes catering to Hindi-medium IAS aspirants, mostly from UP and Bihar.
With a constant flow of students—IAS aspirants as well those studying in DU—from all parts of the country, Mukherjee Nagar, along with adjoining colonies such as Nehru Vihar and Gandhi Vihar, became the city’s biggest hub of students, home to about 70,000 of them.
Almost 60% of the houses in the resettlement colony were serving as PG accommodations or student guest houses—houses with single rooms, sharing rooms on different floors, with a bed, a table, a cooler or an AC. While a double room would cost about Rs 12,000 each in Old Rajender Nagar, in Mukherjee Nagar and Laxmi Nagar it would cost about Rs 8,000 each.
Today, almost all of them are empty.
“All 25 rooms in my guest house have remained unoccupied since May. My owner is demanding rent. Besides, I have to pay fixed electricity charges. I am not sure whether I should hand over the property to the owner, or wait for the students to come back. The problem is I have spent lakhs on furniture, and I do not know what to do with that,” says Rohit Tomar , who runs Tomar Luxury PG in Mukherjee Nagar.
Rajesh Tiwari, who runs MP Galaxy PG Boys hostel in Laxmi Nagar, faces a similar dilemma. “Today my 50-room guest house looks haunted. I have massive debts,” he says.
Jagdish Chandra Gosain, chairman of Mukherjee Nagar Niwasi Manch, an RWA in the neighbourhood, says the collapse of the coaching industry in the colony has created a livelihood crisis for a large number of people who were dependant on rent.
“About 50% house owners in the colony were dependent on rental income, and many of them moved to neighbouring colonies on rent after renting out their own houses to students,” says Gosain, adding most of those who operate student guest houses are from outside Delhi. “They locked the premises and moved to their native places. Property owners do not know what to do.”
Things are no better in south Delhi villages such as Ber Sarai and Jiya Sarai, other thriving student hubs in the capital. Their close proximity to IIT and JNU turned them into havens for students studying for various competitive examinations such as JEE ( Mains), CSIR NET, Jam , among others. Like elsewhere, most businesses catering to students are facing tough times.
“Earlier, my machines never stopped, and students had to wait. Now I am waiting for students. I thought mine was a recession-proof business, but now I have learnt my lessons,” says Shaan ( he uses one name) who started New Star Binding House five years ago in Ber Sarai.