The Supreme Court on Friday came down heavily on the Central government, as well as the Delhi government, regarding the educational needs of children cutting across the social strata, stating that if the same is not done, the whole purpose of the Right To Education (RTE) Act to merge students will stand defeated.
A two-judge Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and B.V. Nagarathna made the observation on a petition filed by an association of private unaided schools against the Delhi High Court directions to provide equipment of optimum configuration, which is sufficient to enable Economically Weaker Sections or Disadvantaged Groups students to get access to online learning.
The Bench observed that the future of children cannot be ignored, a solution has to be devised by both the state and the Centre.
The Apex Court said during the Covid-19 pandemic, the schools increasingly turned to online education in order to avoid exposure of young children. The digital device produced stark consequences, observed the Court, while noting down the plight of children belonging to the EWS/DG category who have to suffer the consequences because of lack of access to internet and computer.
It said the needs of children from underprivileged section to receive online education cannot be denied.
“The Government of NCT should come up with a plan that adheres to the purpose of the Right to Education Act. The Government of India should aid the state government. For providing funds for the same. We expect both the Centre and the state to take up the matter in close quarters immediately, so as to find a lasting solution.
What Article 21-A says?
The Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act, 2002 inserted Article 21-A in the Constitution of India to provide free and compulsory education of all children in the age group of six to 14 years as a Fundamental Right in such a manner as the state may, by law, determine.
Order not only for unaided schools, but govt and aided ones also: Supreme Court
The bench further directed its registry to list the matter along with pending SLPs on similar issue. “It may seem the administrative direction of CJI that the present SLP is listed before an appropriate Bench, so that a reasonable and practical solution is provided for those between the age of 6 to 14 years. This will not only cover the unaided schools, but government as well as aided schools,” the bench ordered.
During the hearing, Advocate Khagesh Jha, appearing for the Respondent/Justice for All, apprised the bench that something urgent needs to be done, these children who can’t have access to devices, how will they study.
Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, while agreeing with him, told Senior Advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for the Association of Unaided Schools, “Mr Jha has a point.”
“In Karnataka, we ordered the state to form a CSR fund for this. This is how we can deal with such matters,” pointed out Justice Nagarathna.
Justice Chandrachud noted, “The EWS children get admission even in regular schools, their children are pursuing education at schools since the parents work there. But they can’t afford a laptop, they need it, they use their phone.”
Mr Divan said, “My lord, this needs to be grappled with, but how this is to be funded, because this is a worldwide issue. Even the compensation is not given fully by the government and that too doesn’t come on time. Education is very important and vital. Many families set up a separate fund for educational needs of their wards.
Justice Chandrachud observed, “You are extremely right. We see that point.”
Justice Nagarathna said, “In Karnataka, we directed the state that this is a highly concerning matter, we have to take this quite seriously and the state came up with a plan.”
At this juncture, Justice Chandrachud asked, “We can’t ask private schools to handle the burden, what is the Delhi Government doing in this case?”
Advocate Santosh Tripathi also appearing for the RespondentNo 2/ Govt of NCT of Delhi, submitted that Government is not running online education because of lack of structure and availability of technology. Online education required certain structure. The central and state takes part in it, solely the state doesn’t have the funds.
Shyam Divan said- We are of the view that the schools will get open after Diwali Break.
Justice DY Chandrachud- Mr. Divan, that is for the senior students. But then the young students it will take time, I saw somewhere there is going to be vaccination for +2, but this will also take time.
“On one hand, we are merging EWS with mainstream students but at the same time, there is disparity. A child of driver, where do they get a tablet or laptop, learning is taking place online. How will they do it?,” Justice Chandrachud asked.
Justice Nagarathna said, “You can imagine the situation in tribal areas, remote/ rural areas. There is a great dropout from school.”
Divan replied, “Your lordship may consider to take up the main matter.”
The Supreme Court noted in its order that the Division Bench of the High Court vide its judgment dated 18.9.2020 has dealt with a matter of crucial importance for the future of young children particularly belonging to EWS and disadvantaged group (DG) pursuing the education at govt. And private school.
Further it noted that the issue before Delhi High Court inter alia pertained to the need to assure 25 percent of EWS and DG students should have necessary gadgets to ensure that during pandemic, when schools across the country were forced to adopt Virtual Classes.
The High Court directed that once a school has adopted a real time education as a mode, both government and private schools must under Section 12(1)(c) 2009 Act should supply the gadgets and equipment of optimum consideration in a package. The cost of such gadgets and equipment be provided to EWS and Subject to right of Claim from state. The judgment of Delhi High was first challenged in SLP by the Government of Delhi in 14901/2020. The Notice was issued on 10.2.2020 by bench of CJI and the Operation of order of High Court Order was stayed. The present SLP is by action committee of unaided recognised Pvt. School. Since two SLP are pending, notice is issued and tagged.
Further, the Court noted that the issue raised in these petitions needs early resolution. Even so, there will be gradual opening of school in view of decreasing curve of Covid-19. The need to provide a computer-based and electronic equipment together with access to online facility to children of EWS/ DG children is of utmost importance.