14th September, 2020.
*How the Maharashtra Government and the Bombay High Court have failed the students of Maharashtr.*
At a time, when the Coronavirus pandemic has forced education to shift online, a 20 year old Mumbai based law student wants to highlight the issue of insufficient infrastructure among lakhs of students which is needed to attend online classes.
While many in the country are facing problems of getting accustomed to new ways of education, a huge portion of population is struggling with no accessibility to education due to the lack of necessary amenities.
Kavisha Khanna, a law student from Mumbai has moved the Bombay High Court praying for the State Government to make infrastructure available and accessible for all students studying in Government schools and colleges across Maharashtra as she believes not doing so is causing students to be deprived of their Right To Education.
The Maharashtra Government via a Government Resolution dated 15th June, 2020, decided to start online classes for students of class 3rd-12th in schools and colleges from July 15, 2020.
Over a month after they decided to start the online classes, the Maharashtra State Council for Educational Research and Training (MSCERT) along with United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released to the media their report on a survey conducted by them titled “Rapid Survey of Student Access to Home Learning Package in Maharashtra” which concluded that at least 40% of students in Maharashtra have not and will not be able to access the online education being provided for them. According to the report, only 26% of the students surveyed were actually able to access online classes.
Multiple other report/ studies which directly or indirectly draw the same conclusion have been released, among them are “Key Indicator of Household Social Consumption of Education” released by the NSSO and published by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation in 2019, the “Digital in India” study released by the Internet and Mobile Association in India and Nielsen in 2019 and the “Scenario amidst COVID 19 – Onground Situations and Possible Solutions” released by Smile Foundation in 2020 also drew the same conclusion as the MSCERT and UNICEF survey (although the Smile Foundation study was a national study).
Under Article 21A of the Constitution of India, all children between the ages of 6-14 must be provided with free elementary education. The Right to Education Act, 2009, highlights that it is the duty of the State Government to provide students with infrastructure to access education including “school building, teaching staff and learning equipment”. This is so that all children can access the education that is their fundamental right. Since it was the Maharashtra Government that decided to change the medium through which it provides students with education (from physical schooling to virtual classrooms), it is the state government’s responsibility to ensure that students studying in government run and government aided schools, as well as students studying in private/ self- financed schools due to reservations introduced via government mandate, are provided with the technical infrastructure to access the education being provided for them.
Khanna sent an email/ letter to the School Education and Sports, the Chief Minister’s office and Women and Child Development departments of the Government of Maharashtra on 31st July, 2020, asking them to provide students studying in their schools with the infrastructure they need to access education. But the only response received was from the Chief Minister’s office stating that the email had been forwarded to the concerned departments.
After receiving no response from the Government, an email/ letter dated 11th August, 2020 was sent to the Chief Justice of the Bombay HC asking them to take cognizance of the matter and admit it as a PIL. “But even after 30 days, and despite continuous follow up, no official response regarding the matter has been received from the High Court. At first the matter was transferred from department to department. It finally reached the concerned department the Legal and Research Department of the High Court, and has been with them for over 20 days, but the only response received from them is that that the matter is “in process”. An official complaint regarding the inaction and inconsiderate behavior of the department has also been filed with the Registrar General of the High Court on 5th September, 2020,” said Khanna.
“We, as law students, are taught that our Courts are the guardians of our Constitution, the protectors of our fundamental rights, but the negligent and arbitrary abstention of the Hon’ble High Court, and the Legal and Research Department in particular, has caused further suffering to the students studying in Maharashtra and prolonged the deprivation of their fundamental right to education,” Khanna remarked.