21 Jan 2022 3:10 AM GMT
The Bombay High Court's Nagpur bench expressed anguish over the absence of mobile internet technology in at least 829 villages in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra, making it impossible for children to attend virtual classes during the Covid-19 pandemic. "If this is the situation prevailing there, one can very well imagine as to what would happen to the future of the next...
The Bombay High Court's Nagpur bench expressed anguish over the absence of mobile internet technology in at least 829 villages in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra, making it impossible for children to attend virtual classes during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"If this is the situation prevailing there, one can very well imagine as to what would happen to the future of the next generation of State of Maharashtra which would come from District of Gadchiroli," the court observed.
A bench of Justices Sunil Shukre and Anil Pansare, hearing a suo motu PIL initiated in 2020, noted that there is also the issue about regular supply of mid-day meals, an aspect of the right to education of children given under the Right to Education Act.
It has directed the State Tribal Development Department (TDD) to file a response within the next four weeks and cover all the concerns raised by the court, along with the list of schools imparting education till Std 10 in Gadchiroli.
The PIL was initiated after children from rural and tribal areas wrote letters to the court highlighting their deprivation of getting online education. The state stopped physical functioning of schools after the pandemic began.
In an earlier order from September 8, 2021, the court had noted that in the absence of 24/7 electricity and internet supply, many schools are not able to impart education.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Communications, New Delhi, informed the court that of the 1509 villages in Gadchiroli, about 571 villages have no telecom connectivity, and about 829 villages have no mobile internet technology.
It stated that telecom service providers (TSP) recognize network areas based on traffic demand and techno-commercial viability. It stated that as per the licences issued by Department of Telecommunications (DoT), the TSPs are not bound to provide telecom/ internet connectivity to each and every village.
However, the affidavit added that 100 villages of Gadchiroli have been identified for connection of Bharat Net Project, the Government's authorized telecom infrastructure service provider. Based on lack of mobile connectivity, 10 districts pan-India were recognised for "rapid improvement," and Gadchiroli was one of them. The Government plans to target 25 villages in the coming year.
The affidavit details other plans as well, stating that the Centre has initiated steps to meet the needs of rural students.
An affidavit of an authorised representative of the State Education Department apologized for responding four months after the court sought responses. The affidavit stated that several state departments are working towards imparting online education.
Regarding midday meals for the students, the court noted, "that because of online classes, at some places, no mid-day meals are being provided to children and no allowance whatsoever in lieu of midday meals, are also being given."
In view of the above the court said that responses from the Union Cabinet Secretary, Chief Secretary of Maharashtra, Principal Secretaries of the State Tribal Development Department (TDD) and Energy Department are necessary.
The court had appointed Advocate Firdaus Mirza as Amicus curiae in the case. The suo motu sought regular electricity supply and internet coverage and to restrain the state from reimbursing fees payable to private schools under the Right to Education Act.
Also prayed for online classes on Radio, TV and pre-loaded Tabs for students. The case will now be taken up after 4 weeks.