Less than a week after the Delhi high court directed private unaided schools in the national capital to provide gadgets and internet connections to poor students for online classes and claim reimbursement from the Delhi government in accordance with the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009, the government is likely to challenge the order in the Supreme Court.

Officials in the Delhi government’s education department confirmed to HT that they have decided to file an appeal before the Supreme Court, challenging the HC’s division bench’s September 18 order on the grounds that it has not laid down clear reimbursement guidelines for the Centre.

“While the Delhi high court has asked the schools to claim reimbursement from the state government within eight weeks of the supply of gadgets or internet, there are clear directions on how and when the Centre will reimburse the state. The Delhi government will request the apex court to issue similar guidelines setting a time frame for the Centre as well,” said the official, who wished not to be named.

“Besides, the RTE Act says that the private schools are reimbursed for the education of poor kids on the basis of either per child expenditure of the government schools or the actual expenses charged by the private schools, whichever is lower,” the official said.

“This judgment asks for reimbursement for gadgets and the internet under a separate head. It will open the floodgates. What if tomorrow private unaided schools decide to introduce a very expensive mode of conducting classes? Can the court again ask the government to reimburse the schools for economically weaker students? It is against the RTE Act,” the official said.

A Delhi government spokesperson did not offer a comment.

Under the RTE Act, 25% of the seats in entry-level classes — nursery, KG and Class 1 — are reserved for students from the Economically Weaker Section (EWS). The students enrolled under the EWS/DG (disadvantaged group) categories in private schools are entitled to free textbooks, writing material and uniforms up to class 8, for which the government reimburses a fixed amount. The Centre and the states share the costs in a 60:40 ratio.

The high court’s order on September 18 came on a petition filed by the NGO ‘Justice For All’ through advocate Khagesh B Jha and secretary Shikha Bagga, seeking electronic devices such as laptops or smartphones with packages for high-speed Internet, for EWS and DG students. “This court directs that the private unaided schools shall be entitled to claim reimbursement of reasonable cost for procurement of the said gadgets/digital equipment as well as internet package from the state under RTE Act, 2009, even though the state is not providing the same to its students,” the court said.

However, the court did not pronounce anything on the dispute regarding finances between the Centre and Delhi government saying the latter can seek redressal from appropriate authorities.

Petitioner Shikha Bagga said, “This will further delay the distribution of gadgets and internet connection to poor students. Half of the academic session has already been completed and students from poor families are not able to study.”

Rajiv Kumar, founder of NGO Pardarshita that works in the education sector, said, “Lack of phones or internet facilities has been a major hurdle for underprivileged children in accessing good education. It’s become even more difficult for them during Covid-19 lockdown since schools are physically shut and clases have been shifted online. Many parents of EWS children enrolled in private schools have contacted us saying that their kids could not attend classes due to the lack of gadgets and internet connection.”

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