The Bombay High Court on Monday expressed displeasure over the “pathetic state of affairs” in ashram schools across Maharashtra and said funds to maintain such institutions were lying with bureaucrats. A division bench of justices R M Sawant and Sadhana Jadhav was hearing a public interest litigation by Nashik resident Ravindra Talpe, raising concerns over lack of basic facilities at such schools which was resulting in children’s deaths.
According to the petition, 793 children from such schools had died in the last decade due to bites by snakes and scorpions, fever and minor illness. “This is really a pathetic state of affairs. All the money and funds (meant to provide facilities) are with bureaucrats. We cannot have such a situation where children are dying due to such reasons like taking bath in cold water, eating food poisoned because of rodents, snake bites and so on,” Justice Sawant said.
The petitioner’s advocate, Uday Warunjikar, pointed out to the court a report submitted by Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) on the issue. “The TISS report is exhaustive on the existing state of affairs of ashram schools in Maharashtra. We direct the petitioner’s advocate to cull out deficiencies noted in the report and suggest remedial measures. We will then direct the state government accordingly,” Justice Sawant said.
The bench also asked additional public prosecutor F R Shaikh to inform the court within a week about a committee set up by the government in May last year to look into the matter. “We want to know if the committee has ever met since it was set up and if yes, then what it has done in the past one year,” the court said.
According to the PIL, there are 1,100 ashram schools imparting education to 4,50,000 students in the state. The petitioner earlier said the government admitted before the court that it had to pay an ex-gratia amount to 340 parents.
The court on Monday perused an affidavit filed by the government saying it cannot pay the ex-gratia amount as it does not have necessary funds. “How can you (government) say you cannot give the money. Some audacity the government has,” Justice Jadhav said