The Gujarat High Court has took suo motu cognizance of a survey conducted by the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A) and the UNICEF Gujarat that found among households which had children enrolled in government schools, 85 per cent of parents had not able to access anything in lieu of mid-day meals since March, when schools were closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
On Friday, the high court issued notices to the principal secretary of education department and the commissioner of mid-day meal scheme in Gujarat government in the matter. Noting that the issue is “very serious, which calls for the immediate attention of the state government,” a division bench headed by Justice J B Pardiwala also noted that the survey observed that around 30 per cent of the children had not engaged in any formal learning activities since March 2020.
The Indian Express had on December 18 published a report, ‘85% parents got nothing in lieu of mid-day meals since March’ on the survey findings.
On Friday, the court also expressed its concern over student dropouts. “The inability to pay fees has led some parents to consider an alternate option of transfers to other schools or even dropping their children out of the school for the year. This is something very serious,” the bench commented.
The court also took cognizance of the survey findings that despite the state government’s notices on extending temporary relief, around 54 per cent of parents had been asked to pay fees during the months of the lockdown and over 40 per cent of parents whose children study in private schools were unaware of the fee relief.
“Among those asked to pay the fees, more than 50 per cent admitted that it was difficult for them to arrange the required amount and meet the payment deadline,” the court noted in its order of December 18.
The IIM-A and UNICEF study covered 375 parents from low-income groups residing in urban Ahmedabad between July and September. It revealed that around 30 per cent of all children had not engaged in any formal learning activities since March 2020. This was highest for those attending private schools through a regular mode (33 per cent), followed by government schools (26 per cent), and those attending private schools through the RTE mandate (22 per cent).
The average income of the surveyed population was around Rs 1,990 per capita per month and more than 95 per cent of the households had less than Rs 4,400 monthly per capita income.
Considering the ground realities highlighted by the study conducted in Ahmedabad urban households, the court was of the view that “the attention of the state government should be immediately drawn to the aforesaid, and in such circumstances, we deem fit to take suo motu cognizance of the above in public interest”.
The high court issued notices to state government through its education and mid-day meal scheme departmental functionaries, and asked them to respond by January 5.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines