BANGALORE: Parents need not despair. The courts understand the plight of children carrying heavy loads, advocate G R Mohan told City Express, responding to our campaign for lighter school bags.
The High Court has already spoken against heavy school bags, Mohan said.
“The order came in 1998, referencing an existing circular. The petitioner P S Ranganathachar was 88 then, and soon passed away. So there was no one to follow it up,” said Mohan, who argued for the petitioner.
It is an important precedent, since it applies, in addition to the state board, to CBSE and ICSE schools as well. “The bags of students from CBSE and ICSE are often heavier than those of children studying under the state board,” he explained.
In the pipeline
Another PIL against weighty backpacks for school kids might soon be on its way, thanks to a Mysore-based NGO called People’s Legal Forum (PLF).
Started in 2003 by a group of public-spirited lawyers, it has looked at the 2006 Children’s School Bags Bill that has remained in cold storage.
Collaborating with experts in medicine, PLF plans to file a PIL in August about the bag problem, using the adverse health effects as the basis.
“Even now, Section 23 of the Juvenile Justice Act can be invoked to implicate schools. The only problem is, parents won’t file cases because the child has to continue in the same school, and they are afraid of harassment,” said PLF Director Baburaj P P, who is also a member of the Juvenile Justice Court.
He said the police should also be educated about the problem.
But real reforms can come from the judiciary, he believes. “We cannot expect the elected representatives to act. After all, children aren’t voters,” he remarked, bitingly.
PLF is also thinking of approaching two MPs—Pratap Simha and R Dhruvanarayana—to see if the issue can be raised in Parliament.
A parent had filed a petition against heavy bags invoking the Act, but the school used a jursidiction question to get away.
“The girl would often complain of weakness, and was even hospitalised a few times. Though the father carried her bag to the bus stop, she would have to lug it up a flight of stairs, so he approached me,” Baburaj said.
And although the DDPI issued a notice to the Block Education Officers, who in turn issued notices to schools, most schools, which were CBSE-affiliated, responded that they weren’t answerable to the DDPI, he recalled.
He feels for ‘general issues’, regardless of the board the school is affiliated to, the DDPI should be the overseeing authority. “And we’re talking about physical strain here, so it’s not necessarily syllabus-related,” he added.
Long before this, the famous novelist R K Narayan had raised the issue in his only Rajya Sabha speech.
Then the Yashpal Committee report made recommendations that schools could follow the ‘Learning without burden’ model in 1993. More recently, in 2006, The Children’s School Bags Bill attempted to find a solution but it hasn’t been passed in the Rajya Sabha.
M G Kumar of M G Kumar Law Firm talks of a PIL against heavy school bags was filed before the High Court in 2001 “but it was summarily dismissed”.
A PIL before the Supreme Court might work, he suggested. “It can be filed by an association of aggrieved parents or a group or an individual parent under Article 32 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court can uphold the children’s fundamental right to life and safety, under Article 21. Parents can also write to the Chief Justice of India, seeking suo moto action. Even a letter can be treated as a PIL,” he explained.
Delhi High Court-based child rights lawyer Anant Kumar Asthana is more sceptical about a legal route for individuals.
“But there is scope for public interest litigation,” said Anant Kumar Asthana, recommending that those facing the problem can approach organisations like HAQ: Centre for Child Rights and Social Jurist.
(Additional reporting by Svetlana Lasrado)
What happened in the High Court
In the mid-1990s, an elderly petitioner called P S Ranganathachar had approached the High Court, seeking directions to the government to reduce the burden on children. Advocate G R Mohan argued the case for Ranganathachar, who passed away before he could follow up on the order. The Karnataka education department placed on record Circular No 95-96 dated May 27, 1996 to show that it had given effect to the directions of the court over the years. The circular directs education officials to take steps to reduce the load of books.
It says schools should:
■ Prevent students from carrying unnecessary books.
■ Give homework in only one subject a day.
■ Teach meaningfully, clearly, and joyfully and create a proper atmosphere for learning.
Parents and students seeking legal advice about heavy school bags can call People’s Legal Forum, Mysore, on (0821) 2566484, or its director Baburaj on 94485 76297.