Litigating the problem of Out of School Children in Karnataka
On April 1, 2013, the Karnataka High Court instituted a Suo Motu petition based on a newspaper report to effectively solve the problem of out of school children in India. The newspaper report stated that there were close to 50,000 children between 6 and 14 years who were out of school. The Bench deemed this as a massive violation of fundamental rights. Parties in this petition include Ms Kathyayani Chamraj (appearing in person), Mr Clifton Rosario (amicus curiae), Mr Aditya Sondhi (amicus curiae), the state government and Azim Premji Foundation.
The Bench has inquired into the various educational schemes that are present for encouraging children to enrol in schools. Reports regarding 20 such schemes have been submitted to the Court. APF suggested that a good child-tracking system be put in place in order to monitor enrolment, transfers and drop-out rates. Both the government and Ms Kathyayini Chamraj submitted that child-tracking systems are already in place, but they are not comprehensive. The Court suggested that the child tracking must happen from the time a child enters the Anganwadi system and the same effort must continue until the child completes elementary education. Ms Kathyayini Chamraj responded stating that the Ministry of Women and Child Development has already instituted a child-tracking system from birth and another child-tracking system would only duplicate the process. She submitted that the problem here is the fact that various departments of the government don’t talk to each other and emphasized on the need for coordination across relevant departments. The problem here is not merely coordination, but comprehensiveness of the child-tracking system. Ms Chamraj suggested that the duration to consider a child as having ‘dropped out’ of school be reduced from 60 days.
The Court has directed that a committee be formed comprising all parties to the petition, members from the Finance Department and the other relevant departments. The committee has been entrusted with the function of preparing a report which studies the depth of the problem and offers solutions. The Court will oversee the implementation of these recommendations. As first steps, the Bench suggested that parties to the petition meet in order to formulate a structure for the formation of the committee, coordinate efforts of the committee and implement suggestions. The Bench also suggested a three-pronged approach that the committee could adopt: 1) collection of data and other relevant research on the problem in Karnataka; 2) integration of the schemes; and 3) full implementation of all schemes. The Court observed that the government must not allow these schemes to go unused by citizens.
It is curious to note that when Ms Jayna Kothari (arguing on behalf of APF) submitted that implementation of the norms and standards and rules on transport facilities as one of the solutions to the problem, the Bench was not very keen on insisting on implementation of norms and standards. The Court’s focus is on 100% enrolment without deliberating drop-out rates. In doing so, the Bench has limited the scope of this litigation to merely ensuring enrolment. The emphasis on mere enrolment in schools seems counter-intuitive to the problem before the Court because without basic infrastructure in place, children cannot be expected to remain in school. Usability of bathrooms, availability of dedicated teachers, proper mid-day meals and all-weather classrooms are a few examples of the facilities required to ensure that children remain enthusiastic about attending school.