Government-Funded Schools must have Teachers : Bombay HC

MUMBAI: The Bombay High Court has directed the Maharashtra government to ensure that schools which receive funds from it have special teachers and attendants for the assistance of disabled students and staff as stipulated by statutory rules. It also observed that the state government is “obligated to provide meaningful opportunities” of education and employment to persons with disabilities. A bench of justices S C Dharmadhikari and Bharati Dangre yesterday directed the state to ensure that all special teachers and attendants approved by the state for the assistance of disabled persons were provided jobs.

The bench was hearing a petition filed by one such attendant who had been appointed by the state authorities in 2009 as a permanent employee in a special school for disabled students in Solapur district.

However, in January 2016, the government closed down the school without giving any notice or granting a hearing to the petitioner and other employees of the institute.

The government also refused to grant an alternative employment to the petitioner even though statutory rules mandate that any surplus teachers and attendants meant for special schools must be absorbed in other schools or units if the place of their work closes down for a valid reason.

The petitioner then moved the HC. He argued that not only was the state obligated to provide him an alternate job, but that it could not close down special schools without any reason since it received budgetary funds from the Centre for such institutes and the welfare of disabled students as well as for disabled persons working as teachers or school staff.

The bench, too, noted that a previous judgement of the Aurangabad bench of the HC mandated the state government employ a certain number of special teachers for disabled students and also attendants for the assistance of disabled students and staff.

“We are disturbed at the stand taken by the state and its attempts to circumvent the order of the Aurangabad bench. If the disabled persons are granted an opportunity at receiving education or employment, such opportunity must be meaningful,” the judges said.

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“Disabled persons require assistance. They are to be rendered such assistance by appointment of special teachers and attendants. Sometimes, these handicapped students or employees have to be carried physically to the school premises.

“We are surprised the provisions to provide them with meaningful opportunities are being made redundant by cancelling the recognition of handicapped units or schools, or by putting an end to the employment of parties like the present petitioner,” the bench observed.

The bench noted that following the Aurangabad bench’s judgement, the state had formed a policy to appoint 1,185 special teachers and 72 attendants for all such schools across Maharashtra.

The Maharashtra government argued that sometimes, due to temporary or permanent closure of some special schools or units, there existed some surplus teachers and attendants. These surplus staff, the state argued, “could not be provided alternative jobs immediately since they can be employed only in special schools or units else we will lose out on the funds from the Union government”.

The bench, however, dismissed the state’ argument, saying irrespective of the Union government’s funds, the state was obligated to provide employment to such surplus staff.

“The above argument by the state is patently unsustainable. Even if there are surplus employees, the state is obligated to provide them employment opportunities and reinstate them in nearby primary or secondary schools.”

The bench directed that the petitioner be immediately re-instated in some other school in Solapur.