The Allahabad High Court has ruled that playgrounds within the school grounds are mandatory in all schools under the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009, in line with the right to education under Article 21A of the Constitution. To this end, Justice Ajay Bhanot observed,
"The provisions relating to norms and standards of infrastructure under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 are mandatory. Further, a playground is also a mandatory and an integral part of a school under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. The scheme of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 unequivocally mandates that the playground, and the school building shall be part of one campus which shall be constituted in a contiguous land area or a compact of land...
...The provisions of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 relating to infrastructure, also create sports facilities. Promotion of sports by the schools, and creation of infrastructure for sports, in the schools, are clearly mandatory under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009...
...Playgrounds are essential to education like classrooms, laboratories, libraries. A school cannot be visualized without classrooms, just so, a school is incomplete without a playground."
The judge made the observations while dealing with a batch of petitions filed by various schools and school managements praying for the grant of government aid or for the grant of recognition from the Uttar Pradesh Basic Shiksha Parishad (UP Board of Primary Education).
As he elaborated on the vital needful schools in incorporate playgrounds for the holistic development of the students, Justice Bhanot also had occasion to note,
"Time spent in schools cannot be in likeness of life on the conveyor belt. The purpose of schools is to humanize life and not to mechanise existence."
On how playground facilities are integral to schools
During the course of submissions, some of the petitioners pointed out that the absence of a playground in the school would not disentitle them to government recognition. In this regard, two Government orders were cited i.e. one of May 2013 and the second one issued in January 2019. Whereas the 2013 GO waived the requirement for playgrounds in schools, the 2019 one stated that the playground need not be in the school name or in the school premises.
The Court, however, found such a state of affairs to be troubling and inconsistent with the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act) and Article 21A of the Constitution of India. The Bench opined that the 2009 RTE Act was enacted with a view to ensure holistic education, which would involve sports and other extra-curricular activities as well.
"The legislature was acutely aware of pit-falls of obsession with scholastic achievements to the exclusion of all other aspects of human personality and growth", Justice Bhanot remarked.
Further, on the role of sports activities for school-going students, the judgment notes,
" Sports and various regimes of physical activities are integral to education. Sporting infrastructure is indispensable for learning in schools. Sporting activities strengthen nerves and sinews, and enhance physical and mental strength. Sports develop camaraderie, instill discipline and imbibe leadership tenets. Sports ensure good health and foster character qualities which contribute to the overall growth of the personality. The diverse individual and social skills learnt on the sports field always endure to the benefit of an individual and cumulatively to the strength of a nation. Emotional intelligence is sharpened more in an open play-field than in an enclosed classroom....
... Yuval Noah Harari in his book “Sapiens” after referencing various studies and scientific researches states that “playing is the mammalian way of learning social behaviour.” The spirit of the game imbibed while playing the game has a critical role in developing the personality of a person."
The Court highlighted that there is an obligation cast on the authorities and schools to create an environment for the overall development of the child, including the “physical abilities of a child.” Justice Bhanot proceeded to comment in some detail about the playground facilities that are expected to be part of a school under the RTE Act.
"The size of a playground should be big enough to accommodate field sports like football, cricket, hockey and an outer track around the perimeter for athletic events. The playground should also have, sufficient space to plant shady trees, and other flora on the outer periphery. The playgrounds are also used for morning assemblies where the entire school assembles at one time. The playgrounds also hosts annual sporting events and other national festivals like Independence Day and Republic Day."
In view of these observations, the Court proceeded to quash both the 2013 and the 2019 GOs. It, thereafter, went one step further and issued several directions to ensure, inter alia, that schools in the State have appropriate playground facilities.
Courts have special responsibilities qua RTE, HC issues directions
Justice Bhanot observed that Courts had a "special responsibility to uphold and implement the fundamental right to education under Article 21A of the Constitution and the Right to Education Act, 2009."
In view of this special responsibility, the Court opined that its intervention was warranted in the interest of the future of school-going students.
"Children are born into this world where their future is damaged beyond repair through no fault of theirs. Children also suffer the consequences of the Government Orders which decide their future made by those who would not be a part of. All in all, the damage caused to the playgrounds has been ruthless. It cannot be business as usual. It is time for the courts to define the statutory responsibility and for the authorities to accept responsibility and current failure."
Therefore, the Court proceeded to issue the following directions to ensure that all schools have appropriate playgrounds within the school premises. These include directions to the Government to come out with norms for government recognition of schools. The norms to be framed should also include the mandate of having a playground in schools. This exercise has to be completed within five months.
In particular, the judgment contains the following directions,
The respondents authorities shall create norms for recognition as well as for grant of government aid to schools consistent with this judgment; The norms for recognition and grant of government aid to schools shall include the playgrounds of appropriate size and require mandatory plantation of trees and flora in the school campus for grant of recognition as well as government aid. The norms for recognition and grant of government aid to schools shall also include detailed building bye-laws and architectural requirements after taking inputs from urban planners, architects, educationists and other experts and in conformity with this judgment; The exercise of creating the infrastructure norms mentioned above for recognition of schools and grant of government aid shall be completed within a period of five months from today; The procedures and details of inspection of the schools shall also be created afresh in the light of the directions in this judgment; The applications of all the petitioners and all other pending applications for recognition and grant of aid shall be considered after the creation of the norms in accordance with the said norms and in light of directions of the Supreme Court in Pawan Kumar Dwivedi's case and in Paripurna Nand Tripathi's case. Even in matters where the application for grant of recognition or for government aid has been rejected for any reason, the same shall be considered afresh along with all pending applications; The Government Orders regarding evaluation norms and directions for providing safe transportation, weight of school bags, shall also be issued and implemented; The Chief Secretary, State of UP shall constitute a committee of various departments to ensure concert in functioning and coordination in the implementation of the provisions of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 and directions in this judgment. Appropriate authority shall also regularly interface with the Government of India for grant of funds in terms of the provisions of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009; The said committee shall submit a compliance report to the Chief Secretary of the State of implementation of the provisions of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 and the directions in this judgment, on a six-monthly basis; The Chief Secretary, State of UP, shall issue appropriate directions from time to time to the said committee and ensure that the provisions of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 and directions in this judgment, are implemented rigorously and on a time-bound basis; A website shall be created by the State Government at the state level as well as the district level under the caption “Saakshar Pradesh Shashakt Desh” (साक्षर प्रदेश शशक्त देश), which shall upload the progress of implementation of these directions, and the provisions of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, details of schools in various neighbourhoods, inspections made by the State Authorities, and other data as may be deemed appropriate on an up to date basis; The existing schools which were granted affiliation under the Government Order dated 08.05.2013 and the Government Order dated January 11, 2019, shall be granted time till the end of the next academic session i.e. March 31, 2021 to comply with the above said requirements and new norms for grant of recognition and government aid; After March 31, 2021, the State Government shall proceed in accordance with law against the said schools, which fail to fulfill the new infrastructure requirements and norms. (This shall not apply to ongoing proceedings against non-compliant schools).
All the same, the Court added,
"However, at all times, the welfare of the students shall be protected and arrangements for admission to alternative schools shall be made in regard to children from schools which are not compliant with the norms for recognition and grant of aid."