In a significant order , the Tamil Nadu Information Commission has held that private schools that receive grants, funds and benefits from the government either directly or indirectly will come under the purview of the Right to Information Act.
Passing orders on a petition that sought information relating to safety aspects in a private school in the Vellore district, the commission said that details of criminal cases pending against members of the school management, principal, teaching/non-teaching faculty and others be published on the official website of the respective schools.
The Director of School Education was told to inform all Chief Education Officers to ensure that the order was complied with. The Director, State Crime Records Bureau, shall coordinate and instruct the District Crime Records Bureau to provide necessary information to the CEOs, said State Information Commissioner S. Muthuraj, in his order. A petition filed by J. Mohammed Ali Siddiq to the Chief Education Officer, Vellore, seeking information regarding the safety precaution taken to ensure the security of the students of St. Joseph Matriculation Higher Secondary School there and the report pertaining to the inspection of School’s campus, environment and transport.
Though the orders were issued the petitioner did not receive the information. He subsequently filed an appeal and then moved the commission. Directing the public authority to give the details sought by the petitioner with regard to the case , Mr. Muthuraj said it was the duty of the State Government to ensure that safety measures are taken to secure the well being of students in all schools across Tamil Nadu. The State Information Commissioner said that schools across the State were receiving grants from the government under the Right to Education Act.
All schools registered under the Trust Act were receiving various financial assistance besides Income Tax relief and exemption/concessions at the time of registering properties, in addition to subsidies for electricity and water consumption. All vehicles registered in the name of the schools were given considerable concession and benefits at the time of registration and at the time of annual permit renewal.
“All schools that receive the above mentioned grants, finance and benefits from the Government either directly or indirectly are construed as Public Authority as per Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act. The Public Authorities are bound to disclose all information that are of public importance under Section 4 of the Right to Information Act,” he said.
At a time when incidents of child abuse were rising and crime against children getting reported in some educational institutions, parents had a legitimate right to know about the credentials of persons who managed the institutions. Parents had a right to know under RTI the steps taken to protect the welfare of the children and ensure conducive atmosphere and also about the management and staff, Mr. Muthuraj said.
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