Avinash Mehrotra v. Union of India & Ors, 6 SCC 398 (2009)
The Supreme Court affirmed the fundamental right to education for children, citing Article 21A of the Constitution as obliging the State and parents/guardians of children to provide a safe environment for the right to education. A set of safety standards were adopted after a devastating fire swept through a private middle school.
This public interest litigation case was a response to the fire that swept through Lord Krishna Middle School in the Kumbakonam District. Lord Krishna Middle School was private school with approximately 900 students. A fire started in the kitchen nearby that eventually caught the thatched roof of the school building, which fell and killed 93 children inside. When the firefighters arrived on scene, they noted that the school was severely out of code. Municipal building codes required the school to be certified every two years, but Lord Krishna Middle School was three years delinquent and contained many serious violations of the code.
The Supreme Court noted that while States have attempted to create and follow school building codes, not enough has been done. Given obligation under Article 21A of the Constitution regarding the fundamental right to a free and compulsory education for children, the Supreme Court spelled out minimum fire safety standards for schools.
The Supreme Court further noted that the right to education “is more than a human or fundamental right. It is a reciprocal agreement between the State and the family, and it places an affirmative burden on all participants in our civil society.” As discussed by the Court, priorities need to be re-set and budgets re-allocated to for the fundamental right to education, and the exercise of educational rights for children should occur in an environment of safety.
A set of safety standards were adopted as a result of this decision. The standards include fire safety measures in schools, the training of school teachers and other staff, school building specifications, and clearances and certificates.
This case considered how the effective implementation of the right to education requires providing a safe environment for children to learn. The burden on the State to provide education as well as ensure the safety of children in the schools.
For their contributions, special thanks to ESCR-Net members: the Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy (PHRGE) at Northeastern University.