A day after the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) sent a notice to the Maharashtra government over its plans to close 1,314 schools in the state, a defiant education department remained firm on its decision.
While state Education Minister Vinod Tawde issued a statement, saying he would defend the state’s stand before the NHRC, the primary education department issued a ‘guidance information’ and a timetable to ensure that the schools are closed within the next couple of days.
The state education department’s decision to close 1,300 Zilla Parishad and government-aided schools, due to poor enrolment figures, had come under severe criticism. However, Tawde “welcomed” the NHRC notice, and said, “It is a blessing in disguise. It will allow the state government to clear its stance in a judicial trial rather than one by the media”.
Defending its decision, the state government has said that poor enrolment numbers in the schools reflected the “poor quality of education”, so those with less than 10 students would be shut down and their students shifted to nearby schools. But education activists have pointed out that the move violates the Right To Education Act, since in many cases, children would have to walk distances beyond 3 km to reach their new schools.
The NHRC notice had given the state government a period of 30 days to send its response. But the latest circular by the latter makes it clear that by next month, the government intends to complete the process of shutting down these schools.
The detailed timetable by the education department lists the various tasks to be carried out by its officers to complete the closure process. The timetable was issued on December 28, a day after it was reported that the NHRC had sent a notice to the state education department on the closure of schools.
According to the instructions in a letter, addressed to the chief executive officers of district collectorates, by the end of December, the salaries of teachers who were working in these schools, and whose students have been shifted to other schools, should be detached and attached to the new schools. Similarly, by January 2018, students’ information in the online portal — SARAL — should be filled, as per the timetable. Transfer of all school material, including books, lab equipment and others, as well as handover of the old school building to the local gram panchayat, among other steps, should take place by January, the department has instructed.