This is one case of judicial activism that you wouldn’t quite know what to think of. The Uttarakhand High Court has banned the state government from purchasing “luxury” items such as cars, mobile phones and air-conditioners for failing to provide basic amenities in state-run schools. The court had directed the government to equip schools with sanitary facilities for students, one set of uniform every six months, mid-day meals, adequate lighting and seating, well-stocked libraries, even something as basic as blackboards, some seven months ago, but the government has failed to carry out the court order.
What’s worse, on being hauled up by the court, the secretary, education, told the court that the education department had written to the finance secretary in March, outlining a requirement of over Rs 900 crore, and was still expecting a reply. Irked, justices Rajiv Sharma and Alok Singh, said that the government had failed miserably in fulfilling its duties.
While the court taking of the cudgels on the behalf of the students in the 12,533 state-run primary schools, 2,809 upper primary schools and 2,203 secondary schools is appreciable, the ban makes little sense. The optics of cars and ACs being ordered for government offices may be poor when children have to sit on the floor in classrooms and schools don’t have toilets, but banning the purchases does little to remedy the situation. In any case, such consumer durables are hardly likely to be regular buys, and a ban may not pinch the babus any harder than the court censure would have done.
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A 2015 ruling by the Allahabad High Court to tackle similar apathy in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh should have stung more. The High Court had directed the state government to ensure all state government officials and people’s representatives sent their wards to its schools. It asked the state to draw up provisions to impose steep fines on such officials and legislators whose children remained enrolled in private schools.