Friday, November 03, 2006

Press Note from Digantar

Press Note

‘Universalization of Elementary Education’ is today an important aim which the nation is aspiring to achieve through various projects and schemes such as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. These efforts assume significance in the context of Rajasthan as it is one of the most educationally backward state of the country where the situation of girl child’s education is grim. The Rajasthan Government is claiming that it is making special efforts for the education of the deprived, however, the actions of its departments particularly the JDA are otherwise. Apparently, there seems to be a dichotomy in the character of the state government, one part claims to be a Messiah of the downtrodden and the other part which is ready to crush the efforts being made elsewhere for the education of the deprived.

The Bandhyali School known nationally for its innovative curriculum and pedagogy which Digantar is running was established in 1992 with financial support from the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Govt. of India which continued until 2003. The school was shifted to the present land in 1993 that was decided upon by the village communities of Kho Nagoriyan and Bhavgarh Bandhya. There are 325 children in this free school, more than 200 of them being girls. All of the children are from educationally and socioeconomically disadvantaged sections of society. Digantar had repeatedly applied to the JDA to allot the part of this land to the school from February 1993 to June 2003.

In June 2005 on receiving a half formed proposal from Mahima Shiksha Samiti for establishing a private university, the JDA promptly reserved the land for it, on which the Bandhyali School was running, even before the issue of letter of intent from the government for this proposed university. So, we petitioned to the High Court. Soon after, JDA sent a notice to Digantar asking to vacate the land without mentioning any reasons. Digantar obtained stay order from High Court and continued to run the school there.

JDA’s favouritism towards Mahima Shiksha Samiti for establishing private university and violation of public norms and constitutional values was criticized nationwide. Like-minded citizens joined hands to protest this move to demolish what is in fact a model in accessible education. People expressed their protest against this unethical and discriminatory favouritism of the state through online petitions, letters to Governor, CM, Vidhan Sabha Speaker, writing articles in the newspapers, holding public meetings. However, the government and the JDA remained oblivious to all these pleadings. Fortunately the Bandhyali School was saved by the Hon’ble High Court.

In its judgement on 3rd May 2006, vide PIL 2502/2006 the Hon’ble High Court of Rajasthan ruled that:

1. Digantar should give an application to the JDA within one week and should also attach all the previous applications and documents.

2. The JDA should allot alternative land to Digantar within 2 weeks of receipt of this application.

3. The JDA should allot this land to Digantar free of cost or at nominal rates.

4. The court also suggested two sites where land could be allotted to Digantar.

The Hon’ble Court gave these orders, recognizing the fact that Digantar is a non profit voluntary organization which is working for the betterment of society.

However, after 20 weeks of this order (As against the Hon’ble High Court’s order of 2 weeks) the JDA sent a letter to Digantar for allotment of land at a rate of Rs. 78,24,650/- per Bhigha (Rs. 2760/- per sq. yards). The very same JDA also sent a letter to Mahima Shiksha Samiti for allotment of land for setting up private university at a rate of Rs. 2,13,783/- per Bhigha (Rs. 70/- per sq. yards) which is about 37 times lesser than the rates being asked from Digantar.

Insertion of Article 21A through 86th Constitutional Amendment has made free education for all children in 6-14 age group a Fundamental Right. The State or any of its agencies is under obligation to ensure that this Fundamental Right is not superseded by any of its decisions or steps in favour of a cause that is not covered by any of the Fundamental Rights. The decision of JDA, therefore, to give greater priority to “Mahima Shiksha Samiti” for setting up a private university than to Digantar for providing free elementary education through Bandhyali School amounts to a major violation of the Constitution, as it constitutes denial of Fundamental Right to education. JDA’s action is further aimed at promoting education as a commodity to be traded in the market, rather than supporting Digantar that has been acting since 1992 to develop education as a means of egalitarian social development in consonance with the Preamble to the Constitution and in fulfillment of Fundamental Right under Article 21A. Moreover the actions of the JDA are violative of the directives and the spirit of the ruling given by the Hon’ble High Court of Rajasthan.

The vacuous and moribund actions of the instrument of the Rajasthan State Government clearly indicate that the Rajasthan State Government fails to recognize the Fundamental Right to education. The Constitutional obligation of the state government of assigning priority to the Fundamental Right to free education for the children in the 6-14 age group stands blatantly neglected. Digantar and the Bandhyali School cannot afford to buy land from JDA at these rates and neither have the resources to pay an annual property tax of Rs. 30 lakhs. Digantar has no other option but to again seek the recourse of law.

Digantar solicits an active support of all the concerned citizens, organizations and media in this fight against injustice.

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