The three-decade-long wait by a village in Kerala's Malappuram district for a school will soon become a reality, if the state government decides to implement a High Court verdict.
On July 29, 2020, the Kerala High Court ordered the state government to sanction a government-managed lower primary school at Elambra, a village in Manjeri municipality.
The verdict, if not challenged by the government, could be the fruitful culmination of the villagers' long-pending demand for a school. “We hope that the government would not challenge the High Court order. The villagers are extremely happy now,” T Muhammed Faisi, a madrassa teacher, who moved the High Court with the public interest writ petition, said.
Faisi approached the court four years ago after the villagers' attempts to convince the successive governments about the need for a school remained futile for decades. He cited that there were no primary schools within a 3-kilometre radius of the socially and economically backward village.
The High Court allowed the petition as Right to Education is a fundamental right of every child according to Article 21 of the Indian constitution.
The empty 'school land'
Elambra's attempt to get a school has all the flavours of a village story about perseverance. It dates back to the early 1980s.
In 1985, the villagers purchased one acre of land for building a school as they felt lack of land should not be a hindrance.
“The plot was purchased through crowdfunding. Over the years, the plot has become known as 'school parambu' (school land) even though there is no school there,” Faisi told Onmanorama.
Faisi, like many in the village, has a personal connect with the plot. His grandfather had donated the money he had saved for Haj pilgrimage to buy the land when the villagers felt short of cash. “I also know a Communist party worker who sold his wife's 'Thali' (nuptial chain) and another person who sent his first salary in the Gulf for the cause,” he said.
Faisi said parents in Elambra used to enrol their children at the age of seven. “It would be difficult for those below 7 to walk three kilometres to reach the schools. Nowadays, children are being transported in autorickshaws,” he said.
Faisi said the new school, if established, will benefit 350 families.
Education Officer's recommendation
The District Education Officer (DEO), who had visited the place in March 2015, had recommended that the application for a new school could be considered.
According to his report, the nearest government lower primary schools are at Cherukulam (3 km away), Cherangath (4 km), Thottupoyyil (3 km) and Vadakkangara (5 km).
He had also cited that appointments to the new school would not bring additional liabilities to the government as teachers enlisted in the teachers' bank due to loss of posts in other schools could be deployed there.
Both the State Human Rights Commission and the Child Rights Commission had also directed the Director of Public Instruction (DPI) to initiate the procedures to establish a new school at Elambra.
Government's denial mode
The government, however, did not entertain the orders citing technical reasons.
The government's stance in the court was that a new school could be established only as per a policy decision and not based on individual requests.
It also cited the school mapping done by educational authorities to establish that there are schools existing in nearby places and there was no need to start a new one in the area.
On the question of 'school mapping', the High Court observed that the Rule 14 of the Kerala Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules, 2011 referred to by the Government applies to recognised private schools and not a government school.
The court also directed the Manjeri Municipality to take urgent steps for construction of buildings for the school.
Manjeri MLA M Ummer said the government cannot turn a blind eye to Elambra's demand for a school. “It's a genuine issue. The place is so backward that a lower primary school there is a necessity. The government should comply with the High Court order and take the steps to open the school this academic year itself,” he told Onmanorama.
He also said he would allocate the necessary funds for building the infrastructure as soon as the government sanctions the school.