On September 18th 2020 Justice Manmohan and Justice Sanjeev Narula of the Delhi High Court pronounced their Judgement in the case of Justice For All vs Government of NCT of Delhi and others. In their order, the Hon’ble judges directed the School and State Authorities to ensure that children of marginalised communities and impoverished backgrounds should get equal access to quality education during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Background of the case:-
A Public Interest Litigation was filed in the Delhi High Court wherein it was prayed that Tablets, Laptops and Android phones with high-speed internet connections should be provided free of cost to children from Economically Weaker and Disadvantaged groups. The counsel for the Petitioner stated that these days almost all the classes were conducted in online mode, and children who could not afford the internet, and tablets/ laptops, were unable to continue their studies.
What was sought from the Court:-
In the PIL it was prayed that:-
- Free laptops or tablets should be provided to children who belonged to EWS and were covered under the RTE act.
- To direct the respondents to ensure that children from such schools should not face any financial barrier that will hinder their studies.
- To direct the government to provide online classes in government schools/ schools run by them which should be on par with online classes conducted by private institutions.
- To direct respondent no.2( Union of India) to implement prayers a) to c) and to also construct hostels for needy children.
- To pass any order that the Court might deem fit.
- To allow the petition with costs.
The Contention of the Petitioner
The counsel for the Petitioner was Mr Khagesh B Jha, and he enunciated various provisions of the Right to Education Act for the benefit of the Court and other parties.
Mr Jha contended that there had been discrimination in the implementation of the RTE Act. He said that free education should be provided to all the students covered in the RTE Act. The state should provide all the infrastructure and resources that will be needed for its implications. He further contended that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, physical lectures were not feasible and online classes were the only option.
It was contended that most of the children who belong to economically weaker sections were unable to afford the devices like tablets and laptops which were used for online classes. The government must provide them with high-speed internet and devices so that they can continue their education.
He stated that private institutions were more than capable of providing such facilities to their students who come from low-income families and in the case of schools that come under the government like Kendriya Vidyalaya the cost of such instruments should be born by the government.
Important Arguments on behalf of the Respondents:-
The counsel for the respondent no.1 Government of Delhi stated that they had taken sufficient measures to ensure that education continues even during the pandemic. They also submitted to the Court that the online mode of education was a temporary one, and it will never be a permanent way of teaching. They also stated that they cannot provide free phones and tablets to all the students and will need help from the central government to implement the same.
The counsel of respondent no.2, Union Of India, stated that many measures had been taken by the government to make sure that education remains uninterrupted even during the pandemic. They told the Court that schools like Kendriya Vidyalay that come under the government of India have access to online education. Children who don’t have access to laptops and tablets can continue their studies through televised education programs and educational radio channels. They also mentioned that notes and textbooks are provided to students who don’t have access to digital mediums.
Various Municipal Corporations of Delhi who are also respondents in the present case told the courts that they had taken various measures so that children can continue their studies. They also mentioned that they are imparting free education to children who belong to the EWS category, and they have also developed very robust online education programs.
Private schools who were made parties in the case requested the Court to modify relief sought and argued that very soon the pandemic will be over and things will go back to normal. Another private school stated that they had around 325 students who belonged to the EWS category and out of the 300 already had access to devices like a smartphone. It was also contended that they had taken measures like ‘school whats app groups’ where classes are held regularly,
The Decision of the Court
After going through the arguments raised by all the parties, the Court gave its verdict. The highlights of the Judgement are as follows:-
- The Court stated that the right to education is an inalienable right, and all the students should get access to quality education.
- They also stated that the Government of NCT of Delhi was doing a commendable job.
- The Court directed all private as well as government schools, who have voluntarily switched to Synchronous Face to Face real-time education, should supply gadgets or equipment to students from economically weaker groups.
- The cost of such equipment cannot be claimed from the students.
- Schools can, however, claim reasonable reimbursements from the state government.
- The Court also ordered that a three-member committee should be formed within a week and should have members from GNCTD, Central Government and the Education Ministry. A standard operating procedure (SOP) should be framed to identify gadgets, suppliers and ISPs so that children can have access to quality education.