THE Bombay High Court has directed the Maharashtra government to file an affidavit in connection with the death of 192 students in ashram shalas (residential schools) in the state in a period of over 10 years. The court also asked the government to take adequate measures to prevent such incidents.
The HC directives came during hearing of a PIL was filed by activist Ravindra Talpe and advocate Uday Varunjikar of Samaj Kruti Samiti. A bench of Justice P V Hardas and Justice Mridula Bhatkar also directed the state government to respond to the issues raised by the complainants. Talpe obtained the information through an RTI application.
According to the reply there are 547 residential schools run by the government where 1,87,216 student stay. There are also an additional 556 government aided residential schools where 82,750 students study. Between 2001 and 2012,50 students died in these schools in Nashik Division,89 students in the Kalwan Division and 29 in Rajur-Ahmednagar Division. There are 1,100 ashram shalas in the state. The figures are only from 150-200 schools which means the figure could be much higher than estimated, Talpe said.
The reasons cited for the deaths were more shocking for Taple. In some cases,sudden death has been mentioned. In other cases,fever,suicides,accidents and snake bites have been cited. This clearly means that the students were not taken care of. There seem to be gross negligence in the functioning of the ashram shalas. The causes of death and the action taken in the matter reflects the lack of seriousness on the governments part. Action has been taken against seven people only over the years, he said.
The ashram shalas are especially set up by the state government in remote areas where people are poor and do not have easy access to education, he said.
Through RTI,the activist had sought information regarding the students who died including their name,age,the class in which the student was studying,name of the residential school,reason or reasons of death,date of death,if action has been taken against the delinquent employee and if the family was compensated.
In most cases,the family has not been compensated yet. Only Rs 13 lakh has been paid to relatives of 68 children, Taple said.
He said they decided to pursue that case when deaths due to snake bite in Gondia and Gadchiroli were registered in October-November last year but no police action was taken.
In December 2012,four more kids died in the Junnar taluka of Pune district. This was alarming,so I filed an RTI asking for information about deaths of students in all the 29 project offices in the state. However,we were provided with information by only five tribal project officers, he said. Information provided by the five tribal project offices was shocking. As many as 192 students died in the jurisdiction of only those five offices in ten years. If we were given information about all 29 regions the number would surely be in thousands, he said.
After obtaining the information,he approached the Tribal Commissioner,the Tribal Development Minister,National Human Rights Commissioner,Chief Minister and the Governor of Maharashtra but no action was taken. Because of this apathy I was forced to move the HC. We hope the tribal kids and their families will get justice, he added.