Orissa HC reserves order on validity of schools’ merger decision

The School and Mass Education department had issued a notification for the merger of nearly 16,000 schools on March 11, 2020, and by then around 4,500 had already been merged.
Orissa HC
Orissa HC(File photo)

CUTTACK: The Orissa High Court has reserved its judgment on the dispute over the legal validity of the state government’s decision for the merger of schools having very low enrolment. The School and Mass Education department had issued a notification for the merger of nearly 16,000 schools on March 11, 2020 and by then around 4,500 had already been merged.

While a single-judge bench had quashed the notification on May 4, 2021, the state government had filed an appeal against it.

A division bench had then issued an interim stay order on the singe judge’s order on July 20, 2021.

The division bench of Chief Justice Chakradhari Sharan Singh and Justice MS Raman reserved judgment after closing hearing on the state government’s appeal on Tuesday.

While making submissions, advocate general Ashok Kumar Parija wanted to drive home the point that the notification was issued after a policy decision for integration of primary, upper primary and high schools with the nearby bigger schools for ensuring fully functional schools with increase in number of teachers per class and concentrated investment of resources.

As per the notification schools with students less than 20 to 40 were to be merged with bigger nearby schools. The consolidation would make schools inspirational for students and result in an improvement of pupil-teacher ratio. There would be better infrastructure facilities, better academic environment with additional facilities, e-learning and co-curricular facilities.

This will also improve learning and teaching time available to teachers and students through reduction in administrative burden on teachers, it was claimed on behalf of the state government.

Justice BR Sarangi had quashed the notification while allowing a batch of 168 petitions which had challenged it on the ground that it violated the Odisha Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules, 2010.

“Instead of finding the reasons for decreasing roll strength, the merger of schools will not serve the purpose. It is just like without finding the cause of the disease, treatment has been started. There are innumerable reasons for the decreasing roll strength. Instead of eradicating the ground difficulties, a merger is taking place due to decisions taken at a higher level without realising the ground level reality”, the single judge observed in the May 4, 2021 order.

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