The Madras High Court Bench here on Friday came down heavily upon School Education Secretary D. Sabitha “for narrating stories” in a counter affidavit filed in response to two public interest litigation petitions seeking toilets and other sanitary facilities in government schools without coming forward with concrete time-bound proposals for improving the amenities.
Passing interim orders on the petitions, a Division Bench of Justices S. Nagamuthu and M.V. Muralidaran said: “We are not at all satisfied with the counter affidavit filed by the Principal Secretary to School Education Department. It does not reflect any programme for improving infrastructure in the schools in a time-bound manner.” They, later, gave time to her till November 18 to come up with a proposal.
“You have just used some flowery language in the counter affidavit but did not address our concern,” Mr. Justice Nagamuthu said, and refused to get swayed by an Additional Advocate General’s submission that the government had constructed 42,361 toilets in government schools in the last five years and that toilets were available in almost all government schools in the State though they might not be adequate for the student strength in some schools.
However, pointing out that most of the toilets in government schools were not functional, due to absence of sanitary staff to clean and non-allocation of funds to maintain them, and that the available toilets were being used only by teachers forcing the children to defecate in the open, the judge wanted to know why only 2,800 toilets had been constructed in 2015 as against 11,284 toilets constructed in 2014.
When the AAG cited funds crunch, the judge said: “Then, why did you say in the counter affidavit that the government accords utmost importance to health and hygiene of schoolchildren and that special emphasis is laid for providing toilets under the SSA, RMSA and NABARD schemes. Who wants all these stories?” He also wondered how could the government ask headmasters to meet out expenses for cleaning classrooms and school campus from Parent Teacher Association funds.
Also expressing surprise over levy of commercial tariff for the electricity consumed by government schools, the judge asked: “Are they industries to be levied with commercial tariff. Why didn’t the School Education Department write to officials concerned and change the tariff?” To this, the AAG said the government was providing Rs. 1,300 to Rs. 2,000 to every government school for payment of electricity bills.
Irked over the submission, the judge directed the Madurai Chief Educational Officer, who was present in the court, to make phone calls to some of the government schools and find out what was their electricity consumption charges. After enquiry, the CEO told the court that a school close to the High Court campus was incurring Rs. 12,000 bimonthly towards consumption charges whereas the charges incurred by other schools ranged between Rs. 4,000 and Rs.9,000.
Recording the submission, the judge said the paltry amount sanctioned by the government would in no way match the actual consumption charges. He also expressed dismay over sanitary napkin vending machines not having been established in many schools and remaining dysfunctional in schools where they had already been established.