New Delhi, November 18: The Delhi government has filed an appeal in the Supreme Court, challenging a Delhi high court order directing private unaided schools in the national capital to provide free gadgets and internet connections to poor students for online classes and claim a reimbursement from the state government. The plea has contended that such a measure will “open up a Pandora’s Box of reimbursement and misuse of public money”.

The high court order on September 18 came on a petition filed by the NGO ‘Justice For All’ through advocate Khagesh B Jha and secretary Shikha Bagga, seeking electronic devices such as laptops or smartphones with high-speed Internet packages, for students enrolled under the EWS (Economically Weaker Section) and DG (Disadvantaged Groups) categories in private schools, the Hindustan Times reported.

HT, on September 24, had reported that the government has decided to challenge the order in the apex court.

A Delhi government spokesperson on Tuesday confirmed that a special leave petition (SLP) has been filed before the Supreme Court challenging the high court order and seeking an interim ex-parte stay on the implementation of the order. The matter is expected to come up for hearing this week.

In its SLP filed on November 5, a copy of which is with HT, the Delhi government said the decision of conducting online classes was taken “voluntarily” by private schools. The government schools have been providing education in a “blended mode” (online and in-person) ever since in-person classes were suspended in March owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The order passed by the high court is erroneous and will open up a Pandora’s Box of reimbursement and misuse of public money…Imparting online education by private schools was purely voluntary in nature and never intended or directed by the petitioner (Delhi government).”

“Such voluntary activity is outside the purview of the Right to Education (RTE) Act and therefore beyond the scope of application of Section 12 (1)(c). However, whatever the facilities extended by private schools to attract the fee-paying children cannot be denied to the 25% EWS students as the central idea of RTE Act..” it said.

Section 12(1)(c) of the RTE Act mandates 25% reservation of seats in entry-level classes — nursery, kindergarten, and class 1 — for students from EWS/DG categories in private unaided schools. These students are entitled to free textbooks, writing material, and uniforms up to class 8, for which the government reimburses the schools a fixed amount. The Centre and the states share the costs in a 60:40 ratio.

The Delhi government said the court failed to consider that the primary objective of the RTE Act, 2009, was to universalize elementary education between the age group of six to 14 years and not to “modernise or glamourise” education. “However, the court has exceeded its jurisdiction and rewritten the entire vital part (soul) of the RTE without any deliberation by Parliament and made it school-centric which will affect the progression of the RTE Act across the country,” it said.

The government said if private schools can afford to provide online education, then they are bound to give inclusive education to EWS students as well and the government was not obliged to reimburse the capital expenditure.

Advocate Kamal Gupta, who is representing a few private schools in the case, said, “The Delhi government wants to take the credit of supply of equipment to EWS category children, but not pay for it. If the government was at all serious or had any interest of children’s meaningful education, it would have started online education and distributed gadgets to all students in government schools.”

Petitioner Khagesh Jha said EWS students in private schools are suffering. “Many of them may drop out due to the unavailability of devices and internet facilities. The financial dispute can be settled later as well. Who will take the responsibility if students drop out in the meantime?” he said.

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