How negligent Gujarat authorities have been towards implementing the right to education (RTE) Act was revealed by the manner in which they have treated the Gujarat High Court order of February 9, 2012, in which the Municipal School Board, on the basis of the affidavit it filed, was directed to construct a new school in Vatva area within two years’ time, where poor and neglected children could study. The order had said, till the school began, the children should get the benefit of Special Training Programme centre, where they had been provided an alternative. So far, the board has not begun the construction work of the new school, which is proposed to be situated about 1.4 km away from the slum area.
While the deadline is to expire in February 2014, for all practical purposes, non-implementation of the order should mean, the school-going slum children seeking education in standards 1 to 5 would remain cramped in a single, partitioned room of the Special Training Programme centre, where three teachers are forced to sit and take five classes, and where they should continue studying till the new school came up.
In fact, negligence towards providing education to slum dwelling children was evident ever since the NGO began working with them. It can serve as a case study on how the authorities do not mind waiting for a High Court order to provide education to children, which is their function right under the Right to Education (RTE) Act. The NGO, Sahyog Charitable Trust, which works in Ahmedabad since the year 2002, wrote its first letter to the board on April 21, 2010 for opening a new school for the underprivileged and neglected children of Vatva. Failing to get a reply, on June 7, 2010, it wrote a letter to the state education minister.
Meanwhile, thanks to the intervention by the state programme director, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, a shelter home began functioning for the underprivileged, neglected and dropped out children of the Vatva area. The shelter home was started initially for a period of one year, which had to be renewed every year. Its aim was to provide education to children aged between 6 and 14 years and provide them with midday meal. After providing them with education in the shelter home, these children were to be given admission in municipal schools in or surrounding Vatva area.
The shelter home continued for about a year, till September 30, 2011, but due to “non-availability of renewal permission”, it was closed down without any notice. As a result, 210 children who were being imparted education in this shelter home were rendered helpless as they had no other school where they could go or afford to take education. These children, who were provided with midday meals, had to take up miscellaneous job on tea-lorry, garage, making incense sticks and embroidery work to get food.
On October 8, 2010, the NGO wrote a letter to the board requesting it to renew the permission granted to the shelter home and to re-start it in the interest of 210 children. Yet, there was no reply from the board, nor was any action taken to restart the shelter home. The NGO again wrote on October 19, 2011, making a fresh request. Following a media report, the NGO was orally informed by the programme coordinator, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, that all the 210 children had been “accommodated” in the Special Training Programme (STP) classes.
On verification, it was found that this was not true, and that only very few children had been accommodated in the STP classes. Besides, no midday meal was being provided to these children. The NGO made several requests, endeavours and written representations, yet no reply was given by the respondents, nor any action taken to restart the shelter home. This forced the NGO to approach the Gujarat High Court to enumerate the problems and difficulties found at the grass root level for this underprivileged and neglected children and to get the shelter home re-started and provide them proper education and food.
The petition to the High Court said, the NGO had been making endeavours with the government authorities to see that, instead of a shelter home, a regular school is established in the Vatva area “so that such children can have proper education and can be streamlined into proper schools.” It added, however, that the authorities “never started school and merely opened a shelter home which was suddenly closed down without any reason by rendering 210 children helpless and on street.”
Calling this a “clear violation of the fundamental rights and duties enumerated under the Constitution of India”, the petition said, “These underprivileged children have equal rights for education under the law and have equal right to the protection guaranteed under law.”
Invoking the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, the petition said, every child of the age of 6 to 14 years has “a right to free and compulsory education in a neighbourhood school till the completion of elementary education”. Section 4 of the Act provides that “where a child above 6 years of age has not been admitted in any school or though admitted, could not complete elementary education, then, that child shall be admitted in a school appropriate to the age.”
That Act, the petition further said, also provides that for “the education of children from 1st to 5th Standard a school should be started within the periphery of 1 km in the area”. Otherwise, “it would be very difficult for such small children to travel for education and the purpose of the Act would be frustrated”. The parents of these children who work on daily basis cannot afford to go to and fro to ferry the children right from the school.
Meanwhile, since spot of the primary school, which was slated to be constructed, is 1.4 km away from the slum area, the NGO was forced to file another PIL in November 2013, as it found that, despite its repeated requests, no transportation/ escort facilities were being provided to the children needing it in Ahmedabad. On July 31, 2013, it asked the programme officer, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, for implementation and operation of the transport/ escort services for such children, under a scheme initiated by Ministry of Human Resources, Government of India.
Under the scheme, Rs 3,000 are allocated by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan as transport/escort facility per child annually to the board. The scheme was initiated in 2011-12. Based on the NGO’s letter, the programme coordinator, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, in its reply dated August 6, 2013, said it had asked the board to “immediately and forthwith implement the scheme as per the approved budget of the year 2013-14.”
Though the scheme began in 2011-12, no benefits had been provided under it to the neglected children and properly implement the said Scheme as per the frame work. The result is that, Rs 3.95 crore each year, allotted to the state government to provide transport/ escort facility, remain unutilized. Though the scheme should have been initiated before the start of the academic year of June 2013, it again remained unimplemented.
Following the “lethargic approach” of the authorities, who were “playing with the future of the under privileged and neglected children”, the NGO filed the petition saying seeking the implementation of the transport facility. Following the writ petition, the authorities found that they had no other go but to implement the order. Hence, on November 22, 2013, the board issued an order to provide transport/ escort services to those children needing the facility to go to school.
— Rajiv Shah