Supreme Court rejects Class XII student’s plea seeking resumption of schools, says cannot take over governance
The Supreme Court on Monday refused to entertain a plea filed by a Class XII student from Delhi seeking directions for the resumption of in-person classes in schools across the country, observing that the court “cannot take over governance” nor can it “issue a judicial diktat for sending all children to schools, oblivious of dangers it may pose”.
A bench of justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and BV Nagarathna said the reopening of schools was dependent on several factors peculiar to each state that only governments could factor in before making a decision.
“The governments are answerable to people and they are also conscious that children will have to be ultimately sent to schools. We cannot by judicial diktat say you shall send all children to schools, oblivious of the danger that may be there. The complexities of governance immediately make this a matter where the court should not start issuing directions,” the bench told advocate Ravi Prakash Mehrotra appearing for the student, Amar Prem Prakash.
The court emphasised leaving “something to the democratic way of life that people have chosen for themselves”. “Sending children to schools is the most fundamental duty of the local authorities and they are very well aware of it. Let us leave something to the government. The Supreme Court cannot take over governance. Let the government make these decisions,” the bench said.
Prakash filed his petition claiming that deprivation of regular schooling was affecting the psyche of the student community leading to depression and social reclusiveness. His plea also mentioned the difficulties faced by underprivileged children, many of whom were unable to join virtual classes due to their weaker financial situation.
But the bench said right at the outset that the Constitution puts education in the concurrent list that empowers both the Centre and states to regulate it.
“You ask this child to focus on his education and not involve himself in seeking constitutional remedies. How can we ask all states to reopen schools? See how misplaced this petition is. Imagine the situation in Kerala, Maharashtra. Do you think the situation in Kerala is the same as it is in Delhi? We have just about come out of the second wave (of Covid-19). The third wave is still looming. We aren’t saying it will come and fortunately there are reports saying the situation will by and large remain under control but we will have to keep our guards on,” remarked the bench.
It added: “Schools are reopening in different states in a phased manner. Many states have already opened schools for children between Class 8 and 10. Things are moving in the right direction...Vaccination is progressing apace. This court will not issue such orders.”
At this point, Mehrotra argued that this petition was filed last month when several states remained indecisive about reopening schools.
But the bench remained unimpressed: “The governments are ultimately answerable! They are also conscious of the need for children to gradually go back to school...Let the states find out where the spike is taking place, which are those areas within the state. There are states with 75 districts; some have 52 districts; there are states with high density of population in some districts and other districts with less density...these are matters which we should leave to the government.”
Pointing out that states like Karnataka and Delhi have already decided to reopen schools gradually, the court said that these are issues that require balancing of interests of children who are home — how they are being affected physically, psychologically, and mentally — with the dangers they might find themselves in if they mix in school.
“Can we divorce this issue from the policy decisions of vaccinating children which the government will decide in due course? This (subject) is too sensitive in terms of social policy, scientific data and available means to vaccinate children and school staff. For courts to issue such directions will not be proper,” underlined the bench.
“We cannot pick up children in the first standard and combine them with these children who are making their foray into higher education...We cannot put our little children in any kind of danger. The government themselves have to tread with the greatest care when it comes to sending children to schools. When the governments are treading with so much caution, a constitutional court has to be more cautious and circumspect,” it said.
Mehrotra, on his part, argued that the petition was not asking for an omnibus direction to reopen schools but was trying to highlight certain issues that were bothering the student community who wanted their redressal.
But the bench retorted: “We are not saying this petition is only for publicity but these are areas fraught with dangers and we cannot venture into it. A child files a petition and we have an omnibus statement that children should go to schools. There is no scientific data provided. Of course, children should go to schools. School is the essence of childhood but how can we pass a judicial order to say irrespective of anything else, they shall be sent to school? We don’t need to queer the pitch today.”
It added that the court was aware of certain incidents that happened in several other countries after schools reopened. “We are conscious of what is happening across the world. We will have to be very careful. This is a sensitive issue of social policy. Children are to be vaccinated, also relevant are the available means of vaccinating children, teachers, staff etc. You may withdraw this and pursue your remedies with the Delhi government. Let us not enter into a fraught area,” the bench told Mehrotra.
Mehrotra opted to withdraw the petition.