Amritsar: The National Commission for Human Rights issued a notice to the Bhagwant Mann-led Punjab government on Thursday in response to a media report about the state government's failure to provide a mode of transportation to students who were forced to cross the Satluj river on a Berhi (a wooden boat) to reach Government Senior Secondary School in Punjab's Ferozpur district.
The NHRC has issued a notice to the Punjab government over the reported lack of proper access to the education facilities for children in the Sutlej surrounding border areas of the Ferozpur district.
"The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, India has taken suo motu cognizance of a media report about the plight of students, in Kaluwara village of Punjab, especially the girls, who have to first walk on foot in the slushy banks of the river Sutlej then board a Berhi (a wooden boat) and cross the river to walk for another 4 kms along the border with Pakistan before finally reaching to the Government Senior Secondary School in Gatti Rajoke area of the district Ferozpur of the State," said a press release.
The plight of female students
According to the media report, released on Wednesday, two girls - Kareena Kaur (12), and Kirna Rani (13), were seen attending high school amidst odds, onboarding a Berhi without any boatman, which is manoeuvred using an overhead cable that is tethered to poles on either end of the river bank, to reach school.
"The girls have to tug at the overhead rope with all their might, haul themselves onto the boat and wait for it to steady itself before rowing to the other side, adding sometimes the students have to wait for the Berhi for more than two hours as they have to wait for someone from the other side to row the Berhi towards them," the report mentioned.
The Berhi is reportedly a common form of water transport in the area, used to ferry, people, cattle and vehicles such as bicycles and motorbikes even tractors as there is no road to reach the area called Gatti Rajoke.
The Commission also observed that the news of the girls, being deprived of proper transportation facilities, raises issues pertaining to the apathy of the state authorities towards the Right to Education of the students as well as the Right to Life and Dignity of the people residing in the area. The State has a responsibility to ensure their safety and to safeguard their human rights by providing them with an environment to live with dignity.
Accordingly, it has issued a notice to the Government of Punjab and sought a report along with the action taken report (ATR) about the steps being taken or proposed to be taken to provide better and hassle-free access to the students to the school in the area, either by the creation of a new school at a nearby place or by providing better access, avoiding the river Satluj/Berhi, while reaching to the school.
"It becomes imperative that the State Government makes it possible for every child to get access to the education system, without much hindrance or difficulty so that the fundamental significance of the life of an individual can be achieved," the NHRC said.
21-A: Free and compulsory education
In this context, the NHRC also noted the Supreme Court's order in Avinash Mehrotra v. UoI, (2009) 6 SCC 398, as well as the introduction of Article 21-A in the Constitution, which makes the State liable to provide free and compulsory education to all the children of the age of six to fourteen years.
"The Government of India has been emphasizing education for girls. It has announced and implemented many schemes to provide benefits to girl children across the country but such news reports indicate that there are still many areas, where a lot of work is yet to be done. The poor citizens cannot be left with their fate and use a Berhi to cross a river daily to reach the school, market or their place of work," NHRC said further.