NEW DELHI, April 8 -- The Delhi High Court criticised the city's education department on Monday for the "very sad state of affairs" of government schools in the north-east district.

A bench led by Acting Chief Justice Manmohan took into account a "scathing" report presented by lawyer Ashok Agarwal, who visited these schools and found various issues such as broken desks, classroom shortages, and a lack of books and writing material. The bench remarked that the authorities are not supposed to just make publications in the newspapers but also work on the ground level to address the shortcomings.

The secretary education, who was physically present in the court and had earlier visited the schools to examine their condition, confirmed the findings in the report and assured that steps would be taken to drastically improve the situation in a time-bound manner.

"You should have known all this. Why do I have to call you? You should be going on ground level on your own. That is your job... Your job is affecting lives of young children. They are in-charge of education," the bench, also comprising Justice Manmeet P S Arora, said.

"You are not supposed to just publish announcements in newspapers that schools are hunky dory. There are 144 children in one classroom... This is very sad state of affairs," added the bench.

Agarwal contended that one of the schools in the district was being run from a tin building and two sections were at times being made to sit in a single classroom.

The court remarked that the authorities' "lack of planning" resulted in "apathy" among the children for school and said accountability must be fixed of the officials. It also questioned how the children were expected to study in a tin building in such high temperatures.

"The problem is that no senior functionary's children are studying in these schools. That's the problem. There is no feedback.

"What is going to happen to our next generation? No wonder the jails are full. Do you understand the correlation?" Justice Manmohan observed.

The education secretary assured the court that there is no shortage of funds and books. Writing material as well as desks would be provided in the schools to all the students, he said. He also said that the tin building for one of the schools is a temporary arrangement and the students will be shifted to another building soon.

The bench emphasised the need for corrective action and instructed the education secretary to submit a detailed affidavit addressing the issues raised in the report. The court directed the secretary to identify and hold accountable any officials responsible for negligence. The matter was scheduled for further hearing on April 23.

The court was hearing a public interest litigation by NGO Social Jurist which was represented by Agarwal.

Earlier, the NGO had argued that the education of more than one lakh students studying in these schools were affected as they were forced to study in schools offering two hours of education per day or alternate day education.

It was argued that inaction on the part of the Delhi government violated the fundamental right to education of the students as guaranteed under articles 14, 21 and 21A of the Constitution read with the provisions of the Right to Education Act.

Published by HT Digital Content Services with permission from Millennium Post.