“What kind of impact do some judgements have on the finances of the government?” In this post, I propose to look at this question using a judgement delivered in April 2009. In the course of this post, I also argue that judges should refrain from delivering judgements which have huge financial and policy implications, as they sometimes have the effect of re-shaping government policies, and do not always result in public good.
The case I am using is: Avinash Mehrotra v. Union of India (Supreme Court – W.P No. 483 of 2004, judgement by Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice Lokeshwar Panta, accessible here).
The relevant facts: The case was a PIL filed relating to a fire in a private school in a district of Tamil Nadu. The fire started in the school’s kitchen while the cooks were preparing the mid-day meal. Usually around 900 students attended the school daily, and a large number perished in the fire.
What the PIL was for: (1) Every child should get free, safe, secure, and good education (!); (2) Stringent rules and regulations at par with the highest standards should be framed for ensuring safety in schools; (3) such standards should be enforced effectively; (4) Manuals for fire-safety procedures should be framed; (5) kitchens in the school should have adequate safety mechanisms; (6) schools should not exceed the limit of children it can admit; (7) Schools must prepare emergency safety plans, assign duties to teachers, staff, and students and teachers, and also local authorities should be trained for responding to emergencies; (8) a committee of jurists, legal experts and lawyers be constituted to formulate a comprehensive report for carrying out reforms in the safety standards.
The judgement of the court:
First, the Court noted that States admit that many schools do not meet self-determined safety standards, let alone those of the National Building Code.
Second, it noted that thousands of schools lack any fire suppression equipment.
Third, it noted that thousands more schools do not have adequate emergency exits or non-inflammable roofs.
Fourth, it said that the complainant’s brief was viewed by them as a document which crystallised safety standards for schools.
Fifth, it then rambled on for a bit about the importance of education.
Sixth, it said that the right to a safe and secure education is a part of the fundamental right to education.
Lastly, it said that portions of the National Building Code of India, 2005 will have to be complied with, and named the specific parts it wanted complied. These include (DISCLAIMER: Some points which I thought were very reasonable have not been mentioned. This post already seems never ending!!):
(a) Fire fighting training to all teachers and students from X to XII standards.