By LE Desk

Cuttack, May 6: The Orissa High Court has invalidated the state government’s move to shut down nearly 8,000 elementary and primary schools with poor enrolment and merge them with larger nearby schools.

The single-judge bench of Justice B R Sarangi, hearing as many as 168 petitions against the merger order, yesterday observed that the School and Mass Education department should find reasons for low enrollments in the said schools and provide necessary infrastructure, rather than shutting them down, The Indian Express reported.

The School and Mass Education Department’s notification, dated March 11, 2020, directed district administrations to facilitate the merger of nearly 8,000 schools across 15 districts of the state. The merger was delayed due to the pandemic.

So far 4,500 schools have already been merged.

“Instead of finding the reasons for decreasing roll strength, the merger of schools will not serve the purpose. It is just like without finding the cause of disease, treatment has been started. There are innumerable reasons for decreasing roll strength. Instead of eradicating the ground difficulties, merger has taken place due to decisions taken at higher level without realizing the ground level reality”, Justice Sarangi observed.

The School and Mass Education Department is now looking into the court order and will likely approach the Supreme Court. 

“We have already made provisions for students who were to face any difficulties. The notification was also modified after taking into consideration the grievances put forth by parents. The judgement was passed by a single bench judge and we are looking into the order. After consultations within the department, we will most likely move the Supreme Court against the decision,” School and Mass Education Minister Samir Ranjan Dash told The Indian Express.

Parents and Right to Education activists had approached the High Court against the merger stating that the decision violated rules under the Right to Education Act. They had said that the merger could lead to dropouts by students in remote areas of the state.

In March, the state government had initiated the merger of 11,517 schools having fewer than 20 students with nearby government schools called Lead Schools. This notification was modified in November 2020 after protests by parents and RTE activists.

As per the modified notification, schools with fewer than 15 students were to be merged with bigger nearby schools. The merger was undertaken under NITI Aayog’s Sustainable Action for Transforming Human Capital in Education (SATHE) program for the integration of primary, upper primary and high schools with the nearby bigger schools to ensure fully functional schools with an increase in the number of teachers per class and concentrated investment of resources.

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