New Delhi, September 20
The Supreme Court Monday advised a 17-year-old Class 12 student, who sought re-opening of schools across the country, to focus on studies instead of getting involved in seeking Constitutional remedies.
The top court said it would not call the plea a publicity gimmick but it was a misplaced petition and children must not get involved in such issues.
A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and B V Nagarathna refused to entertain the petition, saying the student from Delhi may pursue his remedies with the state government.
The bench told advocate Ravi Prakash Mehrotra, “Ask your client to focus on studies in school and not get involved himself in seeking Constitutional remedies. You see how misplaced this petition is. Imagine the situation in Kerala, Maharashtra cannot be the same in Maharashtra and Delhi. I am not saying it is a publicity gimmick but this is why children must not get involved in these issues. We don’t have any kind of data before us.”
The top court then perused the prayers in the petition and said that the petitioner wants re-opening of schools to enable physical classes.
“After Article 21A has been brought into force, it has obligated the State governments to provide free and compulsory education to all children between the age 6 to 14. You see the governments are ultimately answerable. They are also concerned about the need for children to go back to schools. That is the purpose of schools. We cannot, by judicial diktat, say that you shall send your children back to school, oblivious of the dangers which may be there,” the bench said.
The country has just come out of the second wave but there is still danger of a possible spike of viral infection, it said.
“I am not saying it will necessarily happen or that it will be similarly devastating. Fortunately, we now have reports which suggest that the spike will not be of that nature. Vaccination is taking place but children are not vaccinated, even many teachers may not have been vaccinated. We cannot just say send all children to schools. There are governance issues,” the bench said.
It further added that the complexities of governance do not permit the court to start issuing directions and “we should leave something for the democratic way of life that the country has adopted. Surely the government wants their children to go back to the schools”.
The bench said that in Karnataka a decision has been taken to open the schools and similarly in Delhi also a decision has been taken, but “we cannot allow young kids to go and mix with senior students and instead let the States take an informed decision where the spike is taking place. There may be some state with 75 districts or 52 districts and there may be states with high density of population in some districts and others may be sparsely populated. These are the matters in which we should let the government take a call”.
Justice Chandrachud said there has to be some balancing of interest of children, who are at home and how they are being affected physically, mentally or physiologically with the dangers which may be posed to them, if they are to mix with each other in a school environment.
“The government has taken a decision to vaccinate the children. Our government has taken a decision to have a phased reopening of school at the board level. We cannot pick up children in the first standard and mix them with the children of board level, who are to make foray into higher education,” he said.
The bench suggested that the petitioner must withdraw the petition and pursue other remedies like representation to the government and said, “This issue is fraught with great complexities. We cannot give any judicial mandate in a petition where we don’t have any data”.
It told Mehrotra, “The government itself has to tread with extreme care when the issue is of exposing the younger children to the dangers of Covid-19. So the court needs to be equally or even more careful because there is absence of data before us, absence of scientific knowledge on our part and the petitioner. This petition is not based on any scientific assessment”.
Justice Chandrachud said that judges also read newspapers and know what has happened when schools were opened in many countries at an early stage of pandemic.
“We need not mention the names of those countries but we know what happened in such countries where schools were opened at earlier stages,” the bench said.
Mehrotra, who is father of the minor, agreed to withdraw the petition, which the court allowed him to do.
In his plea filed in the month of August, the minor petitioner said that he has filed the PIL on account of the indecision and vacillation on the part of the Union Government and several state governments/UTs in the country in re-opening of schools and resumption of physical classes.
“The petitioner is also echoing the sentiments and feelings of a large body of the student community and fraternity of the country, particularly including the underprivileged and voiceless children, in raising this very vital issue regarding the deprivation and ill-effects, both psychological and actual, of school children being kept away from attending their schools physically..,” the plea said. PTI
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