Even as the state is engulfed in the sordid death of a young girl in her school hostel and the theories surrounding the circumstances, as well as increasing demand for handing over the case to the CBI, recent developments indicate that the efforts of the state investigating agencies are nearing the completion of their work and coming out with the whole truth.
The whole state is waiting with bated breath and every passing day is an added turmoil for the family of the deceased, the students of the school and indeed for the people who would take nothing but the befitting conclusion to the tragic event. As and when the culprit/s are identified, what then? The law must ensure that every single person complicit to the crime be tried and punished to the harshest degree allowed by law. What started out with hopes and dreams of a bright and successful future ended in a coffin with tears and abject frustration for Babysana and her family. Such tragedy should not be allowed to repeat ever again. And those entrusted with ensuring the functioning of law and order in the state including the elected representatives who are overseeing the implementation of such rules must take necessary measures.
Preliminary investigation revealed various deficiencies in maintaining the guidelines laid down under National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) Regulatory Guidelines for Hostels of Educational Institutions for Children 2018. It would be of paramount importance for the state chapter to take up strict reviews and inspections on a regular basis to ensure compliance of the same.
Meanwhile, the Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry announced formulation of guidelines for children hostels, prescribing a minimum standard of care that includes adequate safety and periodic inspections. The Ministry has directed the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) to draft guidelines in consultation with stakeholders and plans are afoot to have these guidelines notified under the Juvenile Justice Act or the JJ Rules.
To ensure safety and wellbeing of children at school hostels, the WCD Ministry will be sharing the guidelines with the Ministry of Human Resource Development for dissemination among schools providing boarding facility. The WCD ministry has also notified all states and Union Territories to undertake inspection of all Child Care Institutions and related facilities and ensure their registration. The minister added that registration under the JJ Act is also mandatory for all Child Care Institutions (CCIs) running in the form of hostels.
The pertinent question here is: are more rules and guidelines really necessary? Many are of the opinion that the current regulatory regime is perverse—over-regulation in letter leading to a culture of graft and poor governance in practice. With more than 250,000 private schools and counting spread everywhere, and our current sociopolitical culture, any regulatory mechanism will be far from perfect. Regulation of schools is the domain of state governments which should ensure that the regulatory mandate must be limited to only the minimal essentials and genuine philanthropic private initiative must not be stifled. Regulation need have only two goals. One, that all private and public schools meet standards in basic academic and operational aspects. The other goal should be to protect the public from the exploitative practices of schools.
The state must form an independent, quasi-judicial school regulatory body. An independent body protected from political and bureaucratic interference will enable efficiency through focus, improve probity by forcing transparency, and increase accountability. Such bodies will not be perfect, but would be a substantial improvement. The school regulator must demand that schools be not-for-profit, as required by law. And for substantiating this, annual financial audits, executed with the same rigour as in companies, must be required. Accounting standards need to be developed for schools with the objective of eliminating practices that are often used for skimming money from such not-for-profit entities. A grievance redressal mechanism for parents should be made available on relevant issues such as safety, stability of fees and other financial matters. The quasi-judicial status of the regulator will enable this.
For a good, equitable education there is no substitute for a robust public system.
A regulatory mechanism will reduce rampant exploitation of the public and help improve educational quality and ensure safety of the students who are at the core of these whole exercises.
A sincere and determined mind should be the starting point of such an endeavor which can protect the threatened future of the state.