There are 1.04 lakh schools in Maharashtra, with over 2.5 crore students studying in primary and secondary classes. However, with students' security being the talking point in schools across the country, Firstpost has learnt that only 60 percent of the state's schools are covered by CCTV cameras, while the other 40 percent schools haven't done so despite a high court ruling mandating it.
The issue of students' safety came to the fore following the murder of a seven-year-old boy, Pradhyumn Thakur, in Gurugram's Ryan International School. The Ryan group of schools is headquartered in Mumbai, ironically in Borivali, the Assembly constituency of state education minister Vinod Tawde.
When asked about the sorry state of security in Maharashtra's schools, Tawde said the state government has begun precautionary measures, as directed by the Bombay High Court guidelines. Its three-year programme involves the installation of CCTV cameras at all schools, Tawde said. However, he added, CCTV cameras would work as a precautionary measure at best, and will not mean the end of all crime.
It has been 18 months since the Bombay High Court asked the state education department to ensure better security of students. In the more immediate aftermath of the murder in Gurugram, this has achieved new significance. And it wasn't the first time the Ryan school found itself in such a controversy. In 2016, a child's body was found inside the water tank of the school's Vasant Kunj branch in Delhi. Even in Mumbai, a seven-year-old boy was sexually abused by the principal of St. Xavier's School in Andheri, which is owned by the same educational group.
But Tawde admitted he hadn't spoken with the administration of the Ryan schools in the state following the Gurugram incident. "There is no need to focus on this one school. I am concerned about all 1.04 lakh schools in the state," he said.
When asked to comment on the fact that the schools are headquartered in his constituency, and Grace Pinto is the BJP Mahila Morcha office bearer, he said the party's top leadership would have to be quizzed on the topic.
Growing numbers of sexual assault cases against minors in schools had forced the high court to issue a directive. Following this, the state also issued a government resolution (GR) in April 2016 asking all schools to install CCTV cameras. According to the GR, all primary, secondary and privately managed schools in the state should install CCTV cameras. Any schools that don't do so will not get funds from the state government. The schools have also been asked to ensure that cameras installed are in working condition and are monitored regularly by school authorities.
The Maharashtra education department has found itself embroiled in a spate of controversies in the recent past, including over delays in announcing results of Mumbai university's board examinations, even months after the deadlines passed.
Senior NCP leader and former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar hit out at Tawde over these issues plaguing the education department. In a public function in Pune, Pawar, without specifically naming Tawde, asked how can the education department be run by a bogus degree holder. Tawde has no control of the education department, and is helpless though the Mumbai university results are still not declared.
MLC Amrish Patel, trustee and president of the Vile Parle Kelvani Mandal, said, "We installed CCTV cameras 10 years ago in our schools and colleges. After seeing its benefits, we also decided to install it inside classrooms, in the staircase, outside toilets, and around the campus. By having CCTV surveillance, unwanted activities can be curbed and it helps create discipline," Patel said.
Parents from the Andheri-based St. Xavier's School, which had already witnessed claims of sexual assault against children, said there aren't enough CCTV cameras there. "It's very disturbing for parents who send their children to this school. The kids are helpless and anybody can do anything to them. The schools are working as money-making machines, but they aren't bothered about security," said a parent.
"Apart from installing CCTVs, having separate toilets for boys and girls and proper sensitisation of staff is also necessary. The education department is supposed to conduct regular audits to ensure these directives are followed," said Arundhati Chavan, president of the parents-teacher association. She added that they have written letters to Fadnavis and Tawde in this regard.
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Updated Date: Sep 18, 2017 21:14:32 IST