A writ petition was filed in the Karnataka High Court under Article 226 before a division bench comprising of BV Nagarathna and Justice NS Sanjay Gowda. The petitioner sought cost-free laptops, tablets, computers, and high-speed internet or any other equipment required for online classes for economically backward children.
The pandemic has resulted in the closure of schools and classroom education. This has resulted in schools adapting to online education. One report of the National Statistical Office (NSO) of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, on the household social consumption on education (July 2017-June 2018) shows that in Karnataka, for villages, only a dismal 2% of houses have a computer and only 8.3% have a connection to the internet. For cities, only 22.9% of households have a computer and 33.5%of them have internet.
Since the pandemic has resulted in hand to mouth situation for various households, they cannot obtain tools of education for their wards. Additionally, the Karnataka Government has not provided adequate facilities to school children to ensure that they can participate in these online classes even after the High Court had previously asked them in an order dated July 8.
The petitioner alleges that the state has violated Article 21-A read with the provisions of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education, 2009 (“RTE Act”) read with the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules, 2010 (“RTE Rules”) read with the Karnataka Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules, 2012 (“Karnataka RTE Rules”) by not providing adequate resources to students from the weaker section of society.
Petitioner also pointed out that India ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 28(1) of the CRC obliges the state to make primary education compulsory and available free for all. Additionally, Article 21 A was brought in to achieve the goals and objectives of the CRC. The state of Karnataka is obliged to provide to avail free and compulsory elementary education as it is a fundamental right of the children in the state.
Grounds of the Challenge
Section 7(1) of the RTE Act puts the responsibility on both the center and the state governments to provide funds to carry out the functions of the RTE Act.
Additionally, Section 8(a) puts an obligation upon the respondent in the present case to provide free and compulsory elementary education to every child. Moreover, section 8(d) puts duty upon the appropriate government to build infrastructure which includes the school building, teaching staff, and learning equipment.
Lastly, Rule 4(9) of the Karnataka RTE Rules asks local authority or the Commissioner of Public Instruction to ensure access to schools for every child regardless of social and cultural factors.
Online education has created a rift between students which has resulted in an unreasonable classification. Only a small percentage of students can avail online education and the vast majority cannot, thus violating the right to equality.
The petitioner prayed for a writ, order, or direction to the state government for the distribution of free laptops, tablets, computers, and high-speed internet or any other equipment required for online classes to be provided free of cost. Additionally, the needs of EWS category students in private schools should be taken care of in terms of accessing and attending online classes.
The High Court issued a notice to the Karnataka government to form an immediate plan to ensure the procurement and disbursal of digital tools to EWC category school children.
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