SC stays Delhi HC’s instructions to provide gadgets for online classes to poor students

The Supreme Court on Wednesday put on hold on order passed by the Delhi High Court directing private unaided schools in the national capital to provide free gadgets and internet connections to poor students for online classes and claim a reimbursement from the state government.

A Bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde while hearing the Delhi government’s appeal against the High Court order also issued notice to the NGO ‘Justice For All’ on whose petition the order was passed.

The High Court while passing the order had said that to separate such students from others in the same class due to non-availability of a gadget or a device would generate “a feeling of inferiority” that may “affect their hearts and minds unlikely ever to be undone”.

The Delhi government in an appeal before the apex court has contended that such a measure will “open up a pandora’s box of reimbursement and misuse of public money”.

The High Court order on September 18, 2020, came on a petition filed by the NGO ‘Justice For All’ seeking electronic devices such as laptops or smartphones with high-speed internet packages, for students enrolled under the EWS (Economically Weaker Section) and DG (Disadvantaged Groups) categories in private schools.

Filing the appeal, the Delhi government said the decision of conducting online classes was taken “voluntarily” by private schools and never intended or directed by the Delhi government.

The government schools have been providing education in a “blended mode” (online and in-person) ever since in-person classes were suspended in March owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It said, “Such voluntary activity is outside the purview of the Right to Education (RTE) Act and therefore beyond the scope of application of Section 12 (1)(c). However, whatever the facilities extended by private schools to attract the fee-paying children cannot be denied to the 25 per cent EWS students as the central idea of RTE Act…”

The government in an appeal said if private schools can afford to provide online education, then they are bound to give inclusive education to EWS students as well and the government was not obliged to reimburse the capital expenditure.

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