Bombay High Court concerned over lack of mobile internet connection in 829 tribal villages in Maharashtra

The Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court has expressed anguish over the lack of mobile internet technology in at least 829 villages in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district, making it impossible for children to attend virtual classes during the pandemic of Covid-19.

“If this is the situation prevailing there, one can very well imagine what would happen to the future of the next generation of the state of Maharashtra who would come from the Gadchiroli district,” the court observed.

A bench of Judges Sunil Shukre and Anil Pansare, hearing a suo motu PIL initiated in 2020, noted that there was also the issue of the regular provision of midday meals, an aspect of the right to education for children granted under the Right to Education Act. education.

He ordered the state’s Tribal Development Department (TDD) to file a response within the next four weeks and cover all concerns raised by the court, along with a list of schools providing education up to Std 10 in Gadchiroli.

The PIL was launched after children from rural and tribal areas wrote letters to the court highlighting their denial of access to online education. The state shut down the physical operation of schools after the pandemic began.

In an earlier order dated September 8, 2021, the court noted that without 24/7 electricity and internet, many schools are unable to provide education.

On Wednesday, the New Delhi Communications Ministry informed the court that out of the 1,509 villages in Gadchiroli, around 571 villages have no telecom connectivity and around 829 villages have no mobile internet technology.

He said telecommunications service providers (TSPs) recognize network areas based on traffic demand and technical-commercial viability. He said that according to licenses issued by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), TSPs are not required to provide telecom/internet connectivity to every village.

However, the affidavit adds that 100 villages in Gadchiroli have been identified for the connection of Bharat Net Project, the government-licensed telecommunications infrastructure service provider. Based on the lack of mobile connectivity, 10 districts across India were recognized for their “rapid improvement”, and Gadchiroli was one of them. The government plans to target 25 villages over the coming year.

The affidavit also details other plans, indicating that the Center has taken steps to meet the needs of rural students.

An affidavit from an authorized representative of the state Department of Education apologized for responding four months after the court called for answers. The affidavit said several state departments were working to deliver education online.

Regarding midday meals for students, the court noted that “due to online courses, in some places no midday meals are provided for children and no allowance in lieu of noon is also granted”.

In view of the above, the court said that the responses of the Union Cabinet Secretary, the Chief Secretary of Maharashtra, the Principal Secretaries of the State Tribal Development Department (TDD) and the Department of energy are needed.

The court had appointed lawyer Firdaus Mirza as amicus curiae in the case. The suo motu sought to secure a steady supply of electricity and internet coverage and to prevent the state from reimbursing fees payable to private schools under the Right to Education Act.

We also prayed for online classes on radio, TV, and preloaded tabs for students. The case will now be resumed after 4 weeks.

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