Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Students' breather: Security forces vacate 28 schools in Jharkhand

2009-11-11 08:50:00
Last Updated: 2009-11-11 10:04:51

Ranchi: More than 10,000 students in districts ravaged by Maoist insurgency in Jharkhand can now go back to their class rooms with security forces vacating 28 of the 43 schools in the areas.

The security forces had set up camps in the schools to battle the red terror. Eighteen districts are affected by Maoist violence in the state, according to official records.

In response to a fresh Jharkhand High Court order of September 16, 2009, in public interest litigation, the state government and the Jharkhand police said it had vacated "28 of the 43 schools it had occupied in the Naxal-infested districts of the state and the process to vacate 13 more schools was under way".

In their Sep 16 ruling, the bench consisting of Justice M.Y. Iqbal and Justice D.K. Sinha said the "security forces had to vacate the remaining schools as early as possible".

When the case was filed in the Jharkhand High Court last year, the court had set a deadline of six months for security forces to relocate from schools.

"The September 2009 order is a follow-up to a court ruling last year where the security forces were told that they had to vacate the school in six months - by the second week of January 2009. But we pleaded with the court to know the status of the case and how many schools the security forces had vacated," lawyer Santosh Tiwari, who filed the case of behalf of the People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), said.

Most of the schools are located in the tribal areas, Tiwari said. Top-viewed galleries

He alleged that while police were claiming that schools were being vacated, the Central Reserve Police Force were "at the same time taking over new schools".

"It is difficult to remove the CRPF camps from schools because of the forthcoming assembly elections," petitioner Shashi Bhushan Pathak, general secretary of PUCL, Jharkhand, said.

Jharkhand state president of PUCL Subrato Bhattacharjee told IANS that Human Rights Watch, a US-based rights watchdog, visited Jharkhand last year to survey the state of education in the insurgency-hit districts. It will release a "document in December on how presence of security forces in schools in the state has taken a toll on education in Jharkhand".

The PUCL had filed an application under the Right to Information Act last year to "ascertain the number of schools where security forces and police had set up temporary outposts".

Nearly 25 percent of the students in the 43 schools occupied by the CRPF are tribal and backward caste girls, Pathak said. Many of the schools do not have permanent teachers and the dropout rate is high among the tribal children, he said.

However, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Raj Kumar Mallick, who filed a counter affidavit on behalf of the state government and police, countered the PUCL charge that education had been affected in these schools.

"In most of these schools, education had not been affected and regular classes were being held," the counter affidavit said.

The police said the security forces occupied only a portion of the school.

"The process of constructing several (alternative) structures for security forces in some of the villages has already begun," the counter affidavit said.

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