On Friday, the Karnataka High Court noticed that cases of child labour and child marriage are on the rise in rural areas of the state, as children under the age of 14 are not going to school.
A division bench of Justice B V Nagarathna and Justice N S Sanjay Gowda has directed the state government to in ten days time take a decision on whether the presently suspended ‘Vidyagama’ Scheme can be recommenced, with a view to keep the students engaged and ensure they are not distracted or diverted and considering that Covid-19 cases in the state are declining. The program is for those students who do not have a facility of technology, especially the internet in rural and semi-urban areas.
Observing that “extraordinary situations call for extraordinary remedies”, the bench directed the state government to approach Companies to garner funds for the distribution of laptops, tablets, Computers, etc to students through the mechanism of Corporate Social Responsibility, as envisaged under section 135 of the Companies Act.
The bench has also directed the state government to rope in NGOs working in the field of education to ensure there is no disruption of the education of children. The bench opined “These observation and directions are being made as it is not known when the Covid-19, the pandemic will subside and when regular classes will commence for school students.”
The instructions were issued during the hearing of public interest litigation filed by A. A. Sanjeev Narrain, Arvind Narrain and Murali Mohan, which claimed that the State violated Article 21-A read with the provisions of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education, 2009 (“RTE Act”) read with the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Laws, 2010 (“RTE Rules”) read with the Karnataka Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules, 2012 (“Karnataka RTE Rules”) by not providing sufficient online services to school children before a resumption of online classes.
It seeks guidance for the immediate formulation of an action plan to ensure that school children belonging to the disadvantaged and economically weaker sections obtain and disburse low-cost laptops, tablets, and any other digital tools to encourage them to attend online classes.
In its reply, the state government said that, “On account of Covid-19 and huge expenses involved for management of the diseases over and above the regular expenditure involved in Governance of state. The prayer in the petition cannot be granted as the state exchequer is involved in Covid-19 management and huge expenses are being outlaid, as Disaster Management Act has been enforced in the state.”
Further, it was stated that “Currently only students of 5th to 10 standards are imparted education through Television-Chandana channel. However, pre-primary and primary students are not having the benefit of online education.”
The court has now referred the matter to a further hearing on 17 December.
What is Vidyagama Scheme?
To ensure that lessons for children who lack access to online classes are not interrupted. Teachers from primary school ask the children to assemble in batches of 10 to 15 at a spacious place near their stay.
All children are told to wear face masks, undertake thermal screening, and maintain a physical distance between them. The teachers visit the place and engage them for at least two hours a day in academic activities, teaching them basic subjects such as science, mathematics, social science, and English. In October, due to students testing positive for Covid-19, the scheme was discontinued.