Karnataka High Court: While hearing the instant writ petition filed by School Development and Monitoring Committee seeking directions for the respondents to initiate the process of identification of land and rebuilding of the Government School in Agaralingana Doddi, Maddur Taluk, the Bench of M. Nagaprasanna*, J., expressed his shock at the lackadaisical attitude of the State to construct the school building without any loss of time. The Court sternly observed that the communications made between the offices clearly indicate that the right to free and compulsory education of children, particularly in the Government school, is treated with utmost callousness. The Court issued the writ of mandamus to the respondents and directed them to act in unison and complete the task of identification, construction and functioning of the School without any loss of time. Identification of land and construction of building must commence from 01-06-2023 and completed within four months.
“This Court would not permit the State to reduce the fundamental right of children under Article 21-A of the Constitution to a mere rope of sand”.
Background: The school at Agaralingana Doddi, Maddur Taluk was established 35 years ago in a small area in the village and the present Committee is the School Development and Monitoring Committee of the Lower Primary School. The school premises expanded as time passed and number of students increased. From 2003 upto 2018, the school was functioning in its full swing with 25 students, both boys and girls, studying in the said school from first to fifth standard.
In 2016, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) undertook a project of widening and upgrading Mysore Highway- NH-275 into a ten-lane road. The land upon which the school existed was marked for acquisition and the school was also notified. Eventually the entire school building was demolished.
NHAI assessed the compensation to the building and for the land and awarded a compensation of Rs. 66,95,098. On assessment of compensation, the School Development Committee made a representation to the Block Education Officer for utilization of compensation amount for purchase an alternative land for construction of a new school building as the amount was more than sufficient for such construction. Repeated communications were made to the respondent authorities to take immediate action in this regard. The Committee even made representations to the respondents to take alternative steps for the purpose of conducting classes in view of demolition of the school building. The Government did not identify any land in the vicinity. The members of the village again came forward by submitting a representation to the Committee for purchase of private land for the purpose of re-building the school.
In 2020, the Deputy Director of Public Instructions communicated to the Block Education Officer to submit the required documents to his office for steps to be taken for construction/reconstruction of the school building. A circular was issued by the State directing compensation amount received by the School on its demolition, to be immediately deposited to the consolidated account of the State.
Looking into the plight of the children who were left with no school and no education, the Committee again made representation to the respondents, stating that with the help of the local villagers they have identified suitable land for utilization of compensation amount awarded against the demolished school.
The issue still wasn’t resolved in 2021 and since the school was not being set up, the members of the village began to protest for identification of the land and construction of school building. This led to the Committee taking up a small room and setting up a school so that the children should not go out of education. The small room does not have any amenities like a kitchen or a washroom.
Since the demolition of the school in 2016, almost 3 years have passed, and a new school building had not been sanctioned. The compensation granted by the NHAI was retained by the petitioners in this duration. This plight of the children compelled the Committee to knock the doors of the High Court.
Contentions- It was vehemently argued by the petitioners that the state authorities have continuously ignored the plight of young children who need education, and for the purpose of education need all the amenities, thereby violating the children’s fundamental right to education under Art. 21-A of the Constitution.
It was further argued that the petitioners only seek establishment of new school out of the funds that have come as compensation, on the demolition of the earlier school building. But the State wants the compensation amount to be deposited in the consolidated account of the State and then wants to release it. In the process, children have no school building.
Per contra, the respondents argued that the Committee has no locus to knock at the doors of the Court. It was submitted that the compensation amount should have first come to the consolidated fund of the State and only then the State would release funds for establishment of a new school building.
Court’s Assessment and Decision: Nagaprasanna, J., upon perusing the facts and submissions, made the following impassioned observations-
Invoking Frederick Douglass, who wrote that, “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”, it was pointed out that it is necessary to build strong children, for which it is imperative to repair the broken will of the officials manning such offices. “It is trite that social and economic development of the nation depends upon its educated population. For a successful democratic system, education is a fundamental requirement”.
It was noted that there is constitutional and statutory obligation on the State to provide education to all children of the age of 6 to 14 years for which purpose it is the duty of the State to provide/create necessary infrastructure and effective machinery for proper implementation of the said right, failing which, the right to education guaranteed under Article 21-A of the Constitution would remain illusory.
The Court pointed out that in the instant case, the Right to Education became a mockery “not at the instance of any private players, but at the instance of officials of the State owing to the ever known malady of “red tapism””. The Court pointed out that the instant case reveals the apathy of the State towards children, notwithstanding the right of the children for free and compulsory education, under Art. 21-A of the Constitution. “It is not because of lack of funds that the new school did not come up, but it is because of lack of will on the part of the officers of the State – respondents 1 to 6”.
Perusing the persistent communications between the parties vis-à-vis construction of a new school building after the demolition, the Court noted that the respondents stuck to the stand that compensation amount should be deposited in the consolidatory fund and in the meanwhile students were directed to be accommodated in another school which is either 500 meters or one kilometer away from the village. Since students had to cross the highway, the members of the village began to protest for non-establishment of a school in the village where the children could get free and compulsory education.
The Court also perused the photographs of the current school, which revealed the severe lack of basic amenities like benches to sit, washrooms etc.
The Court also noted that while presenting their submissions the respondents did not mention as to when the school building would be constructed or re-constructed by identification of a suitable land, but questioned locus of the Committee to file the writ petition.
Rejecting the stand taken by the State, the Court pointed out that School Development and Monitoring Committee is statutory committee under Karnataka Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules, 2012. It was noted that several bye-laws also empower the Committee to acquire, purchase or otherwise own or take on lease or hire temporarily certain properties that are necessary for furtherance of its functions qua the school, supervise all properties and finances of the School. “Therefore, it is not that the Committee is toothless and the allegations are truthless”.
Illustrating an example from Japan, where a train station exists only for one school going child and the trains run at the cost of the State for that one school going child. It was noted that how Japanese Government was applauded globally for being so committed to the basic educational requirements of a child. “Therefore, the officers of the State must remember that right of every citizen matters and no child can be left behind”.
The Court thus issued the writ of mandamus and directed the respondents to act and earnest towards re-constructing the school and report to the Court as regards to the compliance.
[School Development and Monitoring Committee v. State of Karnataka, 2023 SCC OnLine Kar 14, decided on 13-04-2023]
*Order written by Justice M. Nagaprasanna
Advocates who appeared in this case :
Petitioners- M.H. Prakash, Advocate
Respondents- Shwetha Krishnappa, Additional Government Advocate for respondents 1 to 5 and B.J. Somayaji, appearing for respondent No.6.