Won’t interfere with States’ decisions on school reopening: Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court on Monday said the judiciary will not interfere with State governments’ decision when or not to open schools.

A Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and B.V. Nagarathna said the decision to open schools is entirely that of individual States and the court will not “queer the pitch”.

The judiciary has neither data nor the expertise to pass “omnibus” directions to States to open schools and resume physical classes especially when the lives of children are at stake.

“Governments have to tread with the greatest care when opening schools and exposing children to the virus… If so, the courts have to take greater care, that too, with no data at hand,” Justice Chandrachud observed.

The court was dealing with a petition filed by a student who wanted governments to take time-bound decisions to open up schools for physical classes.

Justice Chandrachud said the child who is the petitioner here should focus on his studies rather than file public interest petitions with no or little data to support his contentions.

“Different States have different situations regarding COVID-19… The situation may vary according to factors like the size of the State to density of population. It is the decision of each State to see the areas where there is a spike in case and act accordingly. Ultimately, it is best to leave it for the governments to decide… We cannot take over governance,” Justice Chandrachud said.

Justice Nagarathna pointed out that teachers have to be vaccinated and children have not been vaccinated yet.

“Government is ultimately responsible to bring children back to school. Government is answerable. We cannot direct them to open up in a time-bound manner. We have just come out of the second wave. There may be a third wave, though it may not be as devastating,” Justice Chandrachud said.

The issue of whether to send children to school for physical classes or not and when to do that concerns the “complexities of governance which makes it eminently a case on which the court should not interfere”.

“Let us leave something to the democratic way of life we have chosen… Let us leave it to every State to decide this issue,” Justice Chandrachud addressed the petitioner.

Advocate Ravi Prakash Mehrotra, appearing for the student-petitioner, said the petition was not meant to be “publicity seeking”.

Instead, it had focused on the psychological and physical damage children are being subject to by not going to school. More seriously, Mr. Mehrotra said, many thousands of children depend on school to provide them with a mid-day meal.

Justice Chandrachud agreed that there was a need to balance the need to keep the children safe from the virus with the requirement to keep the physical and mentally healthy.

The court said many State governments, in this case, have decided to open schools in a phased manner.

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