Bombay high court seeks state’s reply on cluster school policy
In September this year, the cluster school policy was made public, proposing to merge schools with a low enrolment rate (below 20) with bigger schools within the same vicinity. The policy also proposed to provide travel and other such facilities for students
Mumbai: The Bombay high court on Thursday asked the Maharashtra government to file its reply in a suo motu Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against the state’s proposed cluster school policy. The court took cognisance of several newspaper articles criticising the proposed policy, including an HT article dated September 24, 2023.
A bench of Chief Justice D K Upadhyay and Arif S. Doctor granted the state six weeks to respond.
Initially, the Nagpur bench of the high court took cognizance of the matter and transferred it to the principal bench by an order dated October 19, 2023.
In September this year, the cluster school policy was made public, proposing to merge schools with a low enrolment rate (below 20) with bigger schools within the same vicinity. The policy also proposed to provide travel and other such facilities for students. This was, however, met with severe criticism.
Mahendra Ganpule, spokesperson, Maharashtra Principal Association, referred to the policy as the state’s school closure plan in a new package. According to him, the plan, if implemented, will affect more than 1.85 lakh students across the state. He further indicated that this contradicts the Right to Education Act, 2009.
Similar criticisms also came from Jalindar Sarode, chief executive of Shikshak Bharti. The proposal, if implemented, will result in the closure of 15,000 schools across the state, he said. All Zilla Parishad schools within a radius of 20 kilometers will be closed, resulting in a violation of the RTE Act, he added.
These opinions, published as part of a new piece by HT, garnered a lot of attention, including that of the Nagpur bench.
After taking note of these criticisms, the Nagpur bench said that this policy affects the right to free and compulsory education of children. According to it, cluster schools are not a feasible option for schools that are set up in remote villages or tribal areas. Since most of these schools that fall under the proposed policy are set up in such areas if nearby schools are closed, parents may not send their children to schools at all, the court said. This will have ramifications not only for this generation but also for the future generations in tribal areas, it said. This decision has an impact on their right to education enshrined under Article 21-A of the Constitution and thus must be investigated, the court stated.