Probe School Safety Or Face Action, Officials Told

Probe School Safety Or Face Action, Officials Told

Directorate pulls up senior official, BMC’s education department for failing to conduct inquiry into concerns about safety of school buildings despite multiple directives; accuses them of ‘dereliction of duty’ and ‘irresponsible behaviour’

Musab QaziUpdated: Friday, February 09, 2024, 09:00 PM IST
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Special Arrangement

The state primary education directorate has pulled up education officials for failing to review safety measures at 218 private schools in the city that had failed to fulfil structural safety and other infrastructure-related norms.

Breaches in school safety oversight

In a sternly worded letter issued last month, the directorate faulted the regional deputy director of education (Mumbai) and the BMC’s education department for failing to conduct an inquiry into the concerns about the safety of school buildings despite multiple directives issued by authorities last year. The directorate accused them of “dereliction of duty” and “irresponsible behaviour” and threatened them with disciplinary action.

Of 678 unaided private schools under the BMC’s jurisdiction, 218 have been operating for the past several years without the certificate of recognition required under the Right to Education (RTE) Act, the civic body had revealed last year in response to a Right to Information (RTI) query. The major reason for the denial of the approval to these schools, which include some of the oldest and most prominent education institutes, is the fact that the decades-old and, in some cases, century-old school buildings are unable to conform to the newer standards of construction and safety, said school and BMC authorities.

Authorities' response to safety concerns

Following the revelation, the Maharashtra State Student-Parent Teacher Federation (MSSPTF), a city-based organisation, had demanded that the authorities act against the schools and fine them for putting the lives and safety of students at risk. Calling it a “serious” issue, the directorate as well as the state education commissioner had asked the civic and regional authorities to investigate the matter.

In response, the BMC’s education department claimed that these schools are not “unauthorised” as they have a no-objection certificates (NOC) from the state government and recommended that they don’t face any action.

However, the directorate remains unsatisfied with this assessment. In its letter, the directorate said that the civic education department and the regional deputy director appear to have disobeyed the instructions of their senior authorities and violated the guidelines of Maharashtra Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1979. They have been reminded to probe the complaints of safety violations and submit a report.

Education Department's stance on RTE Act Approval

Explaining the department’s stance, Education Officer Raju Tadvi said that although the schools lack RTE Act approval, they have been periodically recognised under the Grant-in-Aid Code, which regulates primary schools in the city. “These schools were already recognised by us. Their recognition doesn’t cease to exist after the RTE Act was implemented,” he said.

The RTE Act 2009 requires all privately-run schools to obtain a certificate of recognition by fulfilling various norms pertaining to teachers, school building, teaching hours, library and equipment. The state’s 2011 rules for implementing the act require schools to submit a self-declaration-cum-application (commonly known as ‘Form 1’) to the district education officer. The certificate of recognition (known as ‘Form 2’) is awarded to a school following an on-site inspection.

The schools argue that it’s unrealistic to hold them to current norms as they were built in another era. They also claim that don’t have the resources to fulfil many of the safety measures being demanded by the authorities.

The activists, however, have criticised the officials for not acting against the schools. “These 218 schools haven't been inspected in the last eight years. They have been protected by education officials. The students will be harmed if even one of these schools crumbles,” said Nitin Dalvi of MSSPTF.

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