The government schools in Uttar Pradesh are in a less-than-ideal state in every sense of the term. This includes key areas such as teachers’ appointment and provision of basic amenities such as sanitation and drinking water. It is in this context that a recent ruling of Allahabad High Court – announced by Justice Sudhir Agarwal – has attracted much attention. As per this decision, anyone who receives salaries and related perks or benefits from the state treasury is liable to send his or her children – provided they are young enough to receive primary education – to government schools.
This includes government servants, politicians, members of local bodies, and judiciary. The judgment was delivered on 18 August and has specifically asked the state government to take the necessary measures in the coming six months so that by the next academic session this dictum can be properly exercised. The Chief Secretary of the state government has been tasked with carrying this out and he is also supposed to provide a compliance report after the preparatory period gets over. The court has gone so far as to say that there should be punishment for failing to fulfill the directive.
Source of ruling
Recently several writ petitions had been filed at the said high court. These were mostly regarding the way teachers were being appointed at government schools. In a previous decision, the Allahabad High Court had negated certain parts of the UP Basic Education (Teachers) Service (Fifteenth Amendment) Rules 2012. As per the rules shot down, no importance was given to Teachers Eligibility Test (TET) scores while appointing teachers – only his or her educational qualification was the sole yardstick of judgment. Incidentally, even though the petitions could be regarded as the consequence of said judgment, the petitioners never asked for any improvement in the way teachers were being appointed. They also did not ask for the children of government officials or politicians to be sent to these schools.
However, it seems that the court has gone ahead in an effort to correct the situation. It has stated that only when the children of the powers-that-be are forced to study in the schools will they pay any proper attention to their improvement. Recently, at one public school in UP, a student was electrocuted while washing utensils. It has also been revealed a few days back that in this North Indian state, 20% of the primary teachers lack the necessary qualification to teach students at such a tender age. Going by such evidence, it would seem that the said order has a lot of justification.
Can the order be enforced?
As has been stated already, the petitioners, led by Umesh Kumar Singh, never asked for any improvement in the condition of the schools. This is why legal experts feel that as of now this is only an observation on part of the court. As per legal parlance, it may be called an obiter dictum. Since the court has asked the Chief Secretary, UP Government, to implement this ruling, there remain plenty of doubts as to how well it will be affected in the end. It is also being stated that this particular verdict is an instance where the judiciary has overstepped its authority and stepped into the domain of policymaking.
Policymaking is always the preserve of the executive and legislature. The detractors of this verdict are also saying that there is also no research or any other proof to substantiate the ruling, which is being said to be assumptive in nature. Even though the Indian Constitute does not clearly demarcate the functions of the three wings of government, Supreme Court says pretty clearly that no one body can veer into other’s territory. Even if the government fails to make good policies or implement them in the right way the courts cannot take up cudgels on their behalf.
Takeaways of the verdict
The judgment reveals the critical condition of public schools in the state and shows how the entire system has failed across the country. Incidentally most of the students in India – 90% – can only afford public education. On one hand, massive amount of students are dropping out of these schools on a consistent basis. On the other hand, the state government is spending huge amounts of money on it. However, the sum is just vanishing even as the facilities remain in the same pitiful state they were. The standards are only falling. In fact, the verdict has pointed fingers at the people running these schools, holding them responsible for what it terms shabby administration.
Shiv Kumar Pathak
Meanwhile, one of the teachers who had filed the writ petitions in question has been given the pink slip by the state government. The gentleman named Shiv Kumar Pathak, however, was fired on 13 August, much before the verdict was announced with the reason being his lengthy hiatus from duty. The state’s secondary education minister also said that Pathak did not have the right to challenge his employers. This, however, has had no effect on Pathak who has said that he will continue his battle to improve the state government primary schools in the state.
He has stated that the central schools as well as Navodaya Vidyalayas are good examples of how state-run schools can be operated. Pathak has stated that if the state government is willing enough the same principle can be applied in their primary schools as well. He has also questioned the government’s decision to sack him because of his absence. He said that he has only taken leave for 12 days and this is why he finds the said reason to be illogical to a certain extent.
Pathak was working as a trainee teacher at a primary school in Pandeypur of Sultanpur district. He got his termination letter on 17 August – just a day before the verdict came out. He has complained of government persecution for taking up issues related to modernising government schools. He has also filed four separate petitions at various courts. One of these was regarding the reservation policy of the state government. In fact, it was Pathak who started the Teachers’ Eligibility Test Sangharsh Morcha in 2010 and they battled issues such as mismanagement in the primary schools and problems faced by teachers.
He has pointed out that his group was able to attract the attention of the state high court towards the irregular methods in which around 8000 teachers had been recruited. They also fought on behalf of Shiksha Mitras and cornered the state government. He has also said that ones who are stating that the HC order lacks practicality are the ones responsible for the irrelevance that the state’s primary schools find themselves in.
Condition of schools
Basic Shiksha Adhikari, based in Meerut, had recently visited 65 primary schools in the city and found them to be in woeful condition by their own admission. One of the schools started 30 minutes later than the scheduled time of 8 AM and the registers already had attendance marked in them. BSA also saw that the quality of education in most of these schools was deplorable. There were many issues in key areas such as infrastructure and mid-day meals. In some schools the food being served was not in accordance with the stated menu and at one school there was no toilet.
In some schools, teachers were found to be absent. The BSA has instructed the concerned school authorities to withhold a day’s salary. In case, they fail to comply there are some consequences to be sure. Mohd Iqbal, a BSA officer who visited schools in Rithali, Ghopla, Kunda, and Mokhampur, said that the Allahabad HC order is actually a blessing since he finds nothing wrong in studying in these schools and believes that when the wards of authority figures study in the school several problems can come to the fore.