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Centre And State Should Provide Necessary Facilities For Elementary School Students To Attend Online Classes: Plea Filed Before Kerala High Court

Hannah M Varghese
1 July 2021 3:46 AM GMT
Centre And State Should Provide Necessary Facilities For Elementary School Students To Attend Online Classes: Plea Filed Before Kerala High Court
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A PIL has been filed before the Kerala High Court alleging grave violation of the fundamental right to free education guaranteed u/Art 21A by the State by not providing free infrastructure facilities to the students pursuing elementary education for attending online classes amidst the pandemic. The matter was admitted by a Division Bench of Chief Justice S. Manikumar and Justice Shaji...

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A PIL has been filed before the Kerala High Court alleging grave violation of the fundamental right to free education guaranteed u/Art 21A by the State by not providing free infrastructure facilities to the students pursuing elementary education for attending online classes amidst the pandemic.

The matter was admitted by a Division Bench of Chief Justice S. Manikumar and Justice Shaji P. Chaly on Tuesday. It has been posted after ten days for statement.

Petitioner Abdullatheef M is a social worker and General Secretary of Kerala State Committee of Muslim Students Federation. Citing Article 21A and numerous landmark decisions of the Supreme Court, he established that every child has a fundamental right to free education till the age of 14 years.

The same was conveyed in the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act where no child was to be made liable to pay any kind of expenses which may prevent him/her from pursuing and completing the elementary education.

Advocate Muhammed Shafi M on behalf of the petitioner added that Article 45 also imposed an inalienable duty on the State to provide free and compulsory education to all children until they complete the age of 14 years.

At the outset, the petitioners asserted that it is the duty and responsibility of the Central and State Governments and concerned Local Authorities to provide free and compulsory elementary education to the children in the country.

The PIL alleged that the inaction on the part of the State to provide necessary infrastructure facilities to children to attend online classes is therefore a gross violation of the fundamental right guaranteed to them.

Several surveys and reports have been relied upon to demonstrate that the lack of essential infrastructure facilities for students to attend online classes was a huge setback and the State had to initiate necessary steps to redress their grievances.

Background:

A Government Order dated 29th May 2020 directed that online classes be conducted for Grades 1 to 12 from June 1, 2021 due to the difficulties in reopening schools amidst the pandemic. As per this Order, chapters of all subjects were to be broadcasted on a Television Channel called KITE Victors.

The Headmaster/Headmistress and teachers were to ensure that these chapters were made available simultaneously at their website, mobile app and social media as well. Most importantly, the G.O mentioned that where TV, smartphone or internet facilities were not available in the pupil's house, teachers have to make alternative arrangements to follow those lessons.

The petition pointed out that in Kerala, a majority of the students were enrolled either in Government Schools or Government aided schools, and were mostly rural or urban poor people below the poverty line.

It was contended that they do not have access to costly facilities to take lessons broadcasted through TV channels or websites. Hence many students found it difficult to attend their online classes. The petitioner submitted that this could ultimately affect the quality of their education.

Contentions:

The PIL primarily pointed out that the government was turning a blind eye to the genuine grievances of students. Although initially the government had launched a policy to cooperate with Kerala State Financial Corporation to purchase laptops for students, only 5000 laptops were made available to them.

Government estimates show that nearly 9 lakh students may not have access to digital equipment. Similarly, the Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishath report recommended that necessary steps had to be initiated to address the concern of lack of infrastructure facilities available for the students.

It was submitted that the Muslim Students Federation had presented a representation voicing these complaints before the Government seeking emergent indulgence in the matter, but no action has been taken till date.

This is why the petitioner was urged to approach the High Court since no other alternative and efficacious remedy was available.

The PIL also made reference to a recent incident where a girl had committed suicide for being incapable of attending online classes. It was alleged that such unfortunate incidents could be avoided with the intervention of the Centre, State and local authorities.

As such, the substance of the petition boiled down to how the inability of the aforementioned authorities to provide requisite infrastructure facilities for students to attend online classes was illegal, arbitrary, unreasonable, discriminatory and violative of Articles 21 and 21A.

The petitioner advocated that since right to free education is a fundamental right, the government should meet all related expenses. Having failed to do so, the petitioner alleged the authorities to have miserably failed to meet their constitution obligations.

Prayers Sought For:

The petitioner sought a declaration to Union of India, Government of Kerala and various Local Authorities that they are duty bound to provide necessary infrastructure facilities to children pursuing elementary education to participate in online classes in the State. It was also prayed that a direction may be issued commanding these authorities to provide such facilities to elementary school children such that they can attend online classes forthwith.

Title: Abdullatheef M. v. Union of India & Ors


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