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If Article 21A Is To Become A Reality, Needs Of Underprivileged Children To Receive Online Education Cannot Be Denied : Supreme Court

Mehal Jain
8 Oct 2021 10:23 AM GMT
Stark Consequences Of Digital Divide For EWS/DG Children, Govts Should Devise A Plan To Ensure Access To Education: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Friday observed that the needs of underprivileged students to receive online education must be protected to ensure that the right to education under Article 21A of the Constitution becomes a reality.

"If Article 21A is to become a reality, the needs of children from the underprivileged section to receive online education cannot be denied", the Court observed in an order.

The order was passed while issuing notice in a petition filed by 'Action Committee Unaided Recognized Private Schools' against a judgment of the Delhi High Court which directed the school managements to provide fee gadgets and internet facilities to students of Economically Weaker Sections(EWS) and Disadvantaged Groups(DG) to access online education. The High Court had directed the Delhi Government to reimburse the costs to private schools.

While tagging the petition with an earlier petition filed by the Delhi Government against the same judgment, the Supreme Court directed that it will be necessary for the Delhi government to come out with the plan and place the same before the court for the achievement of the salutary object and purpose of the RTE Act.

The Court added that the government of India shall also engage with the state governments on this aspect in view of its concurrent responsibility for providing funds under the Act.
"We expect the central government and state governments to take up the matter in close coordination on an immediate basis and come out with a realistic and lasting solution",
said the court.
The bench noted in its order as follows :
"The division bench of the High Court of Delhi, by its judgement of September 18, 2020 impugned in this SLP, has dealt with the matter which is of crucial importance to the future of young children, particularly those belonging to the economically weaker sections and disadvantaged groups, in terms of education in private unaided/government schools. The issue before the High Court inter-alia pertains to the need to ensure that the 25% DG and EWS students should have the necessary wherewithal to ensure they are on an equal platform during the course of the pandemic when schools across the country were pursuing online instruction."
"The Delhi High Court directed that once synchronous, face to face, real-time education as the mode of imparting education has been selected, the private unaided and government schools, in view of sections 3(2) and 12(1)(c) of the RTE Act, must supply gadgets and equipment of optimum configuration and internet package to the DG and EWS students free of cost, subject to the reimbursement from the state in view of section 12(2). The judgment of the Delhi High Court was challenged by the Delhi government and a notice was issued thereon on February 10, 2021 by a bench headed by the Chief Justice of India and the operation of the Delhi High Court order was also stayed. The present SLP is by the management, the Action Committee of Unaided Recognised Private Schools. Since the petition filed earlier by the Delhi government is also pending, we issue notice herein and tag this present SLP with the earlier petition."
"The issue raised here needs early resolution even as there would be a gradual reopening of schools in view of the receding curve of the pandemic. However, the need to provide adequate computer-based equipment together with access to online facilities for the EWS/DG children is of utmost importance. In the pandemic, as schools increasingly turned to online education to avoid exposure to young children, the digital divide produced stark consequences. The EWS/DG children suffer the consequences of not fully pursuing education or even having to drop out because of lack of accessibility to the internet and computers. The management of unaided recognised schools have come to the court with the plea that the Delhi High Court while directing them to bear the cost of providing equipment and internet package has left them to seek reimbursement from the state government. This action itself requires requisite resources. At the same time, the needs of young children cannot be ignored. The solution has to be devised at all levels of the government for adequate facilities across the social strata so that access to education is not denied to those who lack the resources. Otherwise, the purpose of merging the EWS with other students in unaided schools under the RTE stands defeated. If Article 21A is to become a reality, the needs of children from the underprivileged section to receive online education cannot be denied",
observed the bench.
In addition to the aforesaid directions to the Delhi government and the central government, the bench also required that the Supreme Court registry may seek the necessary administrative direction of the Chief Justice of India so that the earlier SLP and the instant petition can be listed together at the earliest date before the appropriate bench with a view "to arrive at a practical and workable solution for the youngest citizens of India who are entitled to free and compulsory education between the ages of 6 and 14".
The bench also clarified that the instant proceedings cover not just the unaided private schools but also the government and aided schools.
Case Title: Action Committee Unaided Recognised Private Schools v. Justice For All |SLP(C) No. 4351/2021

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