|W.P. No. 2366/2021
|Date of Filing
|1. Radha M 2. Chikkanna N 3. Gangaraju TL
|1. State of Karnataka- Department of Primary & Secondary Education 2. State of Karnataka- Department of Women and Children 3. Commissioner for Public Instruction
This is a Public interest litigation filed on behalf of parents of children studying in government schools in Karnataka, challenging the continued closure of schools in the State due to the COVID pandemic, when many other economic activities have opened, for being unscientific, harmful and harming the education rights of learners. The petition not only seeks the re-opening of public schools for all students from 1st to 8th standard but also for the recommencement of hot-cooked mid-day meals in schools and the reopening of all Anganwadis in the State with necessary precautions being taken as these closures are seriously affecting the right to education and nutrition of children.
With the covid pandemic which started in March 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs had directed the closure of all schools and only permitted schools to impart education online. Most students in 1st to 8th standard in government schools have not been able to access education to date due to the lack of infrastructure and the public schools not conducting any online classes. Recent reports by the UNICEF and the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the WHO advocate for the reopening of schools to facilitate in-person learning. The Centre allowed States to take a decision regarding the reopening of schools from 15.10.2020 onwards in a phased manner but Karnataka re-opened schools only from Class VI to Class 10. The Supreme Court in Dipika Jagatram Sahani v. Union of India & Anr., also passed an order dated 13.01.2021 directing all State/union territories that have not yet opened Anganwadi Centres to open them on or before 31.01.2021. It is asserted by the petitioners that despite the direction of the court, the Anganwadis in Karnataka had not reopened and also stopped mid-day meals in schools. This is an infringement of a child’s legal right to nutrition guaranteed under the National Food Security Act, 2013.
The petition argues that this prolonged closure is a violation of Article 21, 21A of the Constitution of India and the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 of learners in Karnataka. The petition also highlights reports about increasing incidents of minor girls being pressurized into early marriages, children engaging in child labour and children permanently dropping out of school as consequences of long closures of school.
After this petition was filed, a status report was filed by the State of Karnataka dated 30.03.2021 which stated that presently only 5 children are being allowed in Anganwadi Centres at a time, and instead of mid-day meals, only Take Home Ration (THR) will continue to be provided to children. The Hon’ble Karnataka High Court heard the matter and noted that the mid-day meal is a necessary concomitant of the fundamental right under Article 21A and directed the State to take a decision with regard to the provision of mid-day meals with effect from 15/04/2021 in respect of students in 6th to 10th standard.
The State has now been directed to carry out the preparatory work of reopening schools and must place their plan for reopening on record.
The matter is now listed for hearing on 02.08.2021.
This post was authored by Aashita Sharma, a final year law student from Campus Law Centre, Delhi University. She is currently interning with the Centre for Law and Policy Research(CLPR).