Negligent school authorities will now face the music

The Supreme Court’s intervention could not have come at a more appropriate time. Increasing incidents of assaults on children in schools has necessitated strict action and regulation.

editorials Updated: Oct 12, 2017 10:24 IST
Hindustan Times
school safety,Ryan school murder,Ryan International School
On September 14, in the wake of the outrage that followed the boy’s murder, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), the country’s largest education board, had asked schools to conduct a security audit within two months (HT Photo)

It is a scathing indictment of negligent school owners. The Supreme Court on Monday emphasised the need to implement safety guidelines for children in schools across India that will make school authorities liable to face punitive action in the event of violations. The court was hearing a petition filed by the father of the seven-year-old boy who was found murdered on the premises of Gurugram’s Ryan International School on the morning of September 8.

On September 14, in the wake of the outrage that followed the boy’s murder, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), the country’s largest education board, had asked schools to conduct a security audit within two months. The advisory included directives such as installing CCTVs, psychometric evaluation for staff, constitution of a parent-teacher body, and controlled access to school premises. It also asked schools to constitute committees to redress the grievances of the parents, staff and students and set up panels to prevent sexual harassment under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offence) Act, 2012. Details of these panels along, with contact details, should be displayed on the notice board and the school website.

Appearing before a bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Solicitor-General Ranjit Kumar said the Centre had also made modifications to the National Disaster Management guidelines, specifically focusing on the safety of schoolchildren, to prevent such tragic incidents happening in the future. “The guidelines should be followed with absolute strictness. The action plan should highlight accountability and the visitation of adverse consequences,” Chief Justice Misra said.

The apex court’s intervention could not have come at a more appropriate time. The CBSE had recently filed an affidavit stating that the Gurugram incident took place owing to “severe irregularities and security lapses” on the school premises and that the event could have been averted had the school authorities not been negligent and allowed its administration, drivers, conductors to use washrooms meant only for students and teachers. The affidavit noted that the authorities had also failed in their duty of reporting the murder to the police. It also pointed to the absence of sufficient CCTV cameras and flouting of fire safety laws and non-renewal of fire safety certificates.

Can simply increasing the number of CCTVs make the school premises safer for our children? Do we also need other steps such as police verification of all staff, including teachers? The accused in the Gurugram case, for instance, happened to be a contractual employee with little institutional loyalty. It is time the judiciary put the fear of the law into callous school authorities who are cutting corners and putting commerce before student safety.

First Published: Oct 12, 2017 10:24 IST