Through an order of far-reaching importance passed on August 26, 2021, regarding protection of children, who have lost either parent or both of their parents after March, 2020 in the Pandemic due to COVID-19, Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice Aniruddha Bose, at the Supreme court have directed the State Governments to confer with private schools to waive the fee of the distressed children for the current academic year.
The SC has stated in the order that in case, the private institutions are unwilling to effectuate such waiver the State Governments shall shoulder the burden of the fee. In respect of those children amongst the 2600 registered under the PM Cares for Children Scheme. It is open the State Governments to request the Govt. of India to bear the fee and other expenses pertaining to their education for the current academic year.
On July 27, 2021, information was sought from all the State Govts., Union Territories regarding the identification of orphans and children, who have lost either parent after March, 2020 and the stages of inquiries undertaken by the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) in accordance with provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. These governments were also asked to furnish information relating to Schemes, which have been announced for the benefit of such children and the implementation of those Schemes.
They were further asked to furnish information relating to schemes for education of distraught children and their continuation in the schools in which they are studying for the present academic year, as more than a lakh children have lost either or both parents during the Pandemic. The Court has stated that it is heart-wrenching to note that the survival of so many children is at stake.
The SC has said that it has no doubt that the authorities concerned would leave no stone unturned to attend to the immediate basic needs of these crestfallen children. Satisfactory progress has been made by the Executive in identification of the orphans and those children who have lost a parent during the pandemic. Preparation of Social Investigation Reports and Individual Care Plans is also on track. Inquiries by CWCs have to be expedited to identify children in need of care and protection and immediate steps have to be taken to ensure that the benefits of schemes reach the needy children.
The SC has pointed out that all children have a constitutional right to free and compulsory elementary education which is guaranteed by Article 21A of the Constitution of India. The State has a duty and obligation to facilitate education for children. The Court has said that it has no doubt that the State Realizes the importance of continuance of education of the forlorn children.
The State Govts and Union Territories have filed their responses, pursuant to the order of July 27, 2021. The SC has clarified that after completion of the inquiries, the CWCs may identify those children, who do not need care and protection and financial assistance from the States. Such children need not be given benefits announced by the State Governments. It is only those children who are in need of care and protection in terms of the Act, who have to be provided with assistance by the State Govts.
The SC has directed concerned authorities in the State of Maharashtra to complete the process of preparation of Social Investigation Reports (SIRs) at the earliest. CWCs have been directed to expedite inquiries under section 36 of the Act. Information pertaining to stages 2 and 3 may be posted on the web portal of the NCPCR without any further delay. Unless this information is available, it will be difficult to identify the educational needs of children who have lost either or both parents during the pandemic. There are a large number of such children in Maharashtra.
The authorities in Maharashtra have been also directed not to delay the process of identification of such children requiring support and assistance. They have been also asked to ensure that the benefits announced by them under ‘Bal Sangopan Scheme’ reach the eligible children in need. The Supreme Court has also ordered the State Govt. to file an affidavit within 3 weeks giving particulars of the progress made in preparation of the SIRs of orphans and children who have lost either parent, the stage of the inquiries conducted by the CWs under section 36 of the Act and the details of the various schemes announced, along with the status of their implementation.
As per the information provided in the NCPCR additional affidavit, 116 children have become orphans and 318 children have lost one parent in Chhattisgarh. The information available on web portal of the NCPCR reveals that all particulars relating to 109 orphans and 311children who have lost a single parent have been furnished. However, the Court has found that data relating to Stage 4 is missing. The District Magistrates in the State of Chhattisgarh have been directed to upload the information pertaining to Stage-4 on the NCPCR website, if not already furnished.
The State of Chhattisgarh has notified ‘Chhattisgarh Mahtari Dular Scheme-2021’ for free education in govt. schools to the children of those who died due to Covid-19 or during Covid-19. !27 children have been enrolled under the said scheme and 50 children have been given the benefit of a scholarship, which is of an amount of Rs 500/- per month for those in class I to VIII and Rs 1000/- per month for those in class IX to XII. The State has also come forward with a scheme by which all the educational expenses of those children who have lost their parents due to Covid-19 would be taken care of.
As the State is responsible to protect disadvantaged children, whether they have lost their parents due to Covid-19orvduring Covid-19, The Supreme Court has directed the State of Chhattisgarh to consider extending the "Chhattisgarh Mahtari Dular Scheme-2021" to all children who have become orphans or have lost either parent after March, 2020.
The SC has made it clear that all pending inquiries shall be completed by the CWCs within 3 weeks from the date of this Order. Status Reports have been directed to be filed by all the State Governments within 4 weeks. The case will be listed before the Court on October 7, 2021.