Gujarat HC takes suo motu cognisance of collapsed school building report, slams minister’s ‘rash, shameful’ reply

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A division bench of the Gujarat High Court Friday took suo motu cognisance of a report published in The Indian Express on students of a government primary school gathering at the courtyard of a mid-day meal cook for their offline classes after their school building collapsed last year and lashed out at the state education minister for his “rash” and “shameful” reply on the incident.

In the report titled ‘No school building, students sitting in open; minister says usual during winters’, The Indian Express highlighted that the students of the government primary school at Vaghalwada in the tribal district of Chhota Udepur were forced to sit in the courtyard of the mid-day meal cook’s house after the school building collapsed in the monsoon of 2020.

However, what irked the two-judge bench of Justices J B Pardiwala and N R Mehta more is Education Minister Jitu Vaghani’s justification. Speaking on the sidelines of an event for the virtual address of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on ‘natural farming’ in Vadodara, Vaghani had said, “Many times, during winters, children are made to sit in the open in schools… When I was a student, even I used to sit in the open and study. There is no need to take it otherwise. This issue is on my mind…”

The court noted, “We expect a high constitutional functionary like a minister of a cabinet rank to exercise some restraint while making such rash statements in public. We take a serious note of this entire episode.”

Terming Vaghani’s justification as “more distressing, disgusting and annoying” than the prevailing situation, the bench issued a notice to the state government and directed the registry to register the litigation as a suo motu public interest litigation.

On the returnable date of the notice, the bench directed an officer not below the rank of additional secretary of the education department to “personally remain present before the court of the Chief Justice with an appropriate report in this regard”.

The court also directed a “responsible officer not below the rank of additional secretary from the roads and buildings department to remain present” on the returnable date.

Meanwhile, the state was asked to “immediately undertake the construction of a new school and see to it that it is completed within a period of six months from the date of the receipt of the writ of this order.”

The returnable date, although not mentioned during the oral dictation of the order in open court, is expected to be mentioned in the written order.

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