BY VISHAL GULATI
Chandigarh, Aug 2 (IANS): Treating safety of students, especially in government-run schools, is of a humongous public interest, the Information Commission in Punjab has ruled that a parent has the right to know about the school, where his or her ward is going or getting admitted to, is safe.
During hearings, it was found that some schools, whether they are private, government-aided or government-operated, may not be meeting and complying with the prescribed standards of building and fire safety norms set by the appropriate authority.
In a far-reaching order, Information Commissioner Khushwant Singh on July 28 directed that valid certificates of fire and building safety and board affiliations issued by the appropriate authorities be declared suo-motu by all schools in the state on their websites and notice boards.
Having gone through the Right to Information (RTI) application and hearing both the parties, the commission observed that the building safety certificate, fire safety certificate and school affiliation or recognition certificate are not the personal information, rather these should be displayed on the notice board of the department.
The commission directed the Public Information Officer (PIO) to provide a copy of building safety certificate, fire safety certificate and school affiliation or recognition certificate of Holy Step Public School in Amritsar district to appellant Kamaldeep Kaur.
However, financial statements and maps may not be provided.
During the course of hearing, the Information Commissioner observed that a larger issue had emerged regarding the safety of children and staff in schools.
"That there lies a humongous public interest in taking a broader view of the issue of safety of children and staff in schools than merely confining it to one school about which the information is sought," said the order.
"It is evident from the ongoing hearings that some schools may not be meeting and complying with the prescribed standards... These, the bench feels, are the most important requirements for any educational institution, much important than the service that they provide, as human safety is above everything else," said the order.
Moreover, every parent has the right to know that the school where his or her ward is going or getting admitted to is safe and has a valid affiliation with a school board to run its day-to-day business.
"It is clear that there is an urgent need to bring about transparency in this matter, as these certificates or materials should be a matter of suo-motu declaration rather than being confined in record rooms, only to be sought under the RTI Act," he said.
All schools are required to display fire and building safety certification as well as board affiliation certificates.
In case a school has no website it will be mandatory to display this information prominently on the notice board, and in case of schools with websites, this information will be displayed on both the forums, said the order.
If a school is not compliant with any one of the three, it will still proactively disclose the status quo of all the three points.
The order directed the District Education Officers to ensure its compliance with immediate effect, failing which they will be held responsible for not implementing this order.
Also they will upload this information on the departmental websites, including the name of the schools that are not compliant.
For example, a school can be complaint in one and non-compliant in the other two. Each compliance or non-compliance must be clearly stated on the website, said the order.
Listing the case for next hearing on August 25, the Information Commissioner observed that the case is being kept open to ensure that this order is implemented in its true spirit.