The Supreme Court has literally turned saviour for around 4,500 government schools in Telangana which the K. Chandrasekhar Rao led TRS government wanted to shut down, citing non-availability of enough number of students.
Of the total 18,139 primary and 6,300 upper primary schools in the state, not less than 4,500 primary and 550 upper primary schools were about to be closed this academic year under what the government has termed as the “rationalisation of schools” in a phased manner.
The government wanted to close these schools and shift the teaching staff to other schools where there are vacancies for teachers. This would have saved the government from recruiting around 15,000 government teachers and putting extra burden on the exchequer. But a host of activists and civil society groups challenged the government’s move in the SC in October 2015, saying that this was against the spirit of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009, which stipulated that every habitation should have a primary school within a distance of 1 km.
As per the Telangana government’s statement in the Assembly in March last year, there are 405 schools without a single student, while 991 schools have zero to 10 students, and 2,390 schools have less than 20 students. The government estimated that around 15,000 teachers are “idling” away their time in these schools.
Responding to the PILs filed against the government, a division bench of the SC comprising Justice Dipak Mishra and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh appointed a commission led by senior counsel Ashok Gupta in April to investigate the matter. The commission visited both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh and inspected dozens of schools before submitting an interim report to the SC. In most of the schools, teachers’ attendance was very low and the quality of amenities like drinking water supply and toilets for students was poor. The panel came across shocking instances like regular government teachers appointing some proxy private teachers in their places to bunk schools.
The judicial activism reflected through this special commission brought pressure on the state government to roll back its earlier decision. Telangana school education director G. Kishan has confirmed to The Sunday Guardian that the government might not close any schools this academic year which began on 13 June. “We are trying our best to keep running these schools. We have launched an enrolment campaign to fill seats in these schools,” he said. The campaign, named as “Badi Baata” (back to school), had been launched on 1 June and it will continue till the first week of July. Teachers of these schools will visit households and urge parents to send their children to government schools. The campaign has been launched keeping in view the SC’s next hearing on 13 July. In its orders in the first week of May, the Apex Court wanted to know the steps taken by the government to attract students to these schools.
Meanwhile, secretary of parents association of Telangana government schools, M. Narayana told this newspaper that there was a conspiracy to kill government schools only to benefit the “rapacious private schools”. “Why should government schools with more qualified teachers go begging for students, while private schools with less qualified and less experienced teachers get more students? Moreover, the fee in government schools is zero, while private ones charge not less than Rs 20,000 per annum,” said Narayana.