An orphan is an orphan, irrespective of how the death of his or her parents happened, the Supreme Court has said, asking the Centre if there are ways the benefits of schemes, including PM Cares fund, which were meant for children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic, can be extended to all orphans.
A bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra on Friday asked Additional Solicitor General Vikramjeet Banerjee, appearing for Centre, to seek instructions in the matter.
“You have rightly brought out a policy for orphans, whose parents died due to the COVID pandemic. An orphan is an orphan, irrespective of whether the parents died in an accident or illness. By bringing these schemes, you are attending to the condition and not the parentage.
“You seek an instruction on whether benefits of schemes including PM Cares fund meant for children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic can be extended to other orphaned children,” the bench told Mr Banerjee.
The ASG said he was recently given a brief to appear in the matter and would respond to the court’s query in four weeks’ time.
Petitioner Poulomi Pavini Shukla, who appeared in person, said that children orphaned during the pandemic were provided benefits under the Right to Education Act and similar benefits can be given to other orphan children on the court’s direction.
“Two states Delhi and Gujarat have been providing benefits of the Right to Education Act by issuing a simple government order under section 2(d) of the Right to Education Act and this can be done in other states also,” Ms Shukla told the bench.
Section 2(d) of the Right to Education Act, 2009, deals with a child belonging to a disadvantaged group — which means a child belonging to a Scheduled Caste, a Scheduled Tribe, a socially and educationally backward class, or such other group that has a disadvantage owing to social, cultural, economical, geographical, linguistic, gender or such other factor, as may be specified by the appropriate government, by notification.
The bench took note of the submission and asked the Centre to consider the expression “such other group” in section 2(d) of the RTE Act and consider extending the benefits to all orphans by issuing suitable directions.
Ms Shukla said that notice on her plea was issued in 2018, the year she filed the petition, but the Centre even after five years has yet to file its response.
“In 2018, I was studying law when I filed this petition. Five years have passed, I have written a book and am married now but still Centre has not filed its response,” she said.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, also appearing in the matter, said orphan children should be extended the benefit of a 20 per cent quota for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) as given to other children in school admissions.
The bench asked Mr Banerjee to seek instructions and file a detailed affidavit and also directed the states to file their responses on the aspect of section 2(d) of the Right to Education Act