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State of Kerala and others Vs. President, Parent Teacher Association SNVUP and others

[Civil Appeal No. 958 of 2013 arising out of SLP (C) No.9162 of 2011]

K.S. Radhakrishnan, J.

1. Leave granted.

2. We are in this appeal concerned with the question whether the High Court was justified in directing the Secretary, General Education Department of the State of Kerala to get the verification of the actual students' strength in all the aided schools in the State with the assistance of the police and to take appropriate action.

3. The Assistant Educational Officer (AEO), Valappad had fixed the staff strength of S.N.V.U.P. School, Thalikulam for the year 2008-09 based on the visit report of High School Association (SS), GHS Kodakara as per Rule 12of Chapter XXIII of Kerala Education Rules (KER). Later, based on a complaint regarding bogus admissions and irregular fixation of staff for the year 2008-09 by the AEO, the Super Check Cell, Malabar Region, Kozhikode made a surprise visit in the school on 17.09.2008 and physically verified the strength of the students and noticed undue shortage of attendance on that day. The strength verified by the Super Check Cell was not sufficient for allowing the divisions and posts sanctioned by the AEO.

The Head Master of the School, however, stated in writing that the shortfall of attendance on the day of inspection was due to "Badar Day" of Muslim community and due to distribution of rice consequent to that. In order to confirm the genuineness of the facts stated by the Head Master, the Cell again visited the school on 16.12.2008. Verification could not be done on that day, hence the Cell again visited the school on 02.02.2009 and physically verified the students' strength. On that day also, there were large number of absentees as noticed on 17.09.2008. On verification of attendance register, it was found that the class teachers of respective classes had given bogus presence to all students on almost all the days. Enquiry revealed that the school authorities had obtained the staff fixation order for the year 2008-09 through bogus record cal admissions.

4. The Director of Public Instructions (DPI), Thiruvananthapuram consequently issued a notice dated 07.05.2009 to the Manager of the School of his proposal to revise roll strength and revision of staff strength by reducing one division each in Std. I, II, IV to VII and 2 divisions in Std.III and consequent posts of 5 LPSAs, 3 UPSAs in the school during the year2008-09. The Manager of the school responded to the notice vide representation dated 27.05.2009 stating that Super Check Officials did not record the attendance particulars of the students in the visit record and had tampered with the attendance register. The Manager had also pointed out that the Headmaster was not responsible to compensate the loss suffered by the Department by way of paying salary to the teachers who had worked in the sanctioned posts. Further, it was also pointed out that the staff fixation should not be done within the academic year and re-fixation was not permissible as per Rule 12E(3) read with Rule 16 of Chapter XXIII, KER and requested not to reduce the class divisions.

5. The DPI elaborately heard the lawyers appearing for the Headmaster and the Manager of the school, affected teachers as well as the officials of the Super Check Cell. Having heard the submissions made and perusing the records made available, the DPI found that the staff fixation of the school for the year 2008-09 was obtained through bogus admissions and misre presentation of facts. DPI noticed that the roll strength during the year 2008-09 was 1196. There were 404 absentees on the first visit of the Cell on 17.09.2008. The Super Check Cell again visited the school on16.12.2008 and 02.02.2009 and it was found that among 404 students absent on the first day, 179 names were bogus and irregular retentions.

The physical presence of 179 students could not be verified on all the three occasions. DPI, therefore, passed an order revising the staff fixation of the school for the year 2008-09 as per Rule 12(3) read with Rule 16 of Chapter XXIII of KER. Consequently, the total number of divisions in the school was reduced to 23 from 31. In the Order dated 08.09.2009, the DIP had stated as follows: "The Headmaster is responsible for the admission, removals, and maintenance of records and for the supervision of work of subordinates. It is the duty of the verification officer to verify the strength correctly and to unearth the irregularities. Due to the irregular fixation of staff, the State exchequer has incurred additional and unnecessary expenditure by way of pay and allowances for 8 teachers and expenditure incurred in connection with payment of various scholarships, lump-sum grant, noon-feeding, free books etc to the bogus students. These loss sustained to the Government will be recovered from the Headmaster of the school who alone is responsible for all the above irregularities.

6. "The DPI also directed to take further action to fix the liabilities and recover the amount from the Headmaster under intimation to DPI and the Super Check Officer, Kozhikode. The Headmaster and Manager of the school, aggrieved by the above-mentioned order, filed a revision petition before the State Government. The High Court vide its judgment dated 7.12.2009 in Writ Petition (C) No. 35135 of 2009 directed the State Government to dispose of the revision petition.

7. The higher level verification was also conducted in the school with regard to the staff fixation for the year 2009-10 and on verification, it was found that many of the students in the school records were only bogus recordical admissions. Following that, the AEO issued staff fixation order for the year 2009-10 vide proceedings dated 27.03.2010.

8. Meanwhile, the President of the Parent Teachers Association(Respondent No.1 herein) filed WP (C) No. 12285 of 2010 before the High Court seeking a direction to the AEO to reckon the entire students present in the school on the 6th working day and higher level verification of District Education Officer (DEO) on 13.01.2010 for the purpose of staff fixation for the year 2009-10 and also for a declaration that the exclusion of the students who were present on the day of higher level verification on13.01.2010 from the staff fixation order 2009-10 was illegal and also for other consequential reliefs.

9. Learned Single Judge of the High Court dismissed the Writ Petition on07.04.2010 stating that the Parent Teachers Association have no locus standi in challenging the staff fixation order. The judgment was challenged in W.A No.1195 of 2010 by the President, Parent Teachers Association before the Division Bench of the High Court and the Bench passed an interim order on 14.07.2010. The operative portion of the same reads as follows:- "The inspection team has recorded that as many as 179 students whose names and particulars are furnished, represent bogus admissions for record purposes.

If admission register is manipulated by recording bogus admissions in the name of non- existing students or students of other institutions, we fell criminal action also is called for against the school authorities. Since appellant has denied the findings in the inspection report, we fell a police enquiry is called for the in the matter. We, therefore, direct the Superintendent of Police, Thrissur to constitute a team of Police Officers to go through Ext.P1, verify the registered maintained by the school authorities, take the addresses as shown in the school records and conduct field enquiry as to whether the students are real persons and if so, whether they are really studying in this school or elsewhere. In other words, the result of the enquiry is to confirm to this court whether the students whose names are in the record of the school are real and if so, whether they are students in this school or any other school."The Bench also directed to the Superintendent of Police to submit his report within one month.

10. The Superintendent of Police, following the direction given by the High Court, constituted a team under the leadership of the Circle Inspector of Police, Valappad and the team conducted detailed enquiry in respect of all the matters directed to be examined by the police. The Superintendent of Police submitted the report dated 20.09.2010 which reads as follows: "On the enquiry about the 187 students (179+8) which were alleged as bogus admissions as per Ext.P1, it is revealed that only 72 students were studied in S.N.V.U.P. School during the period 2008 - 09 and 80 students were studied in some other schools.

The addresses of 23 students have not been traced out even with the help of postman of the concerned area. On the enquiry it is also revealed that 4 students vide the admission Nos. 13008, 11875, 12883 and 13876 mentioned in Ext.P1, have not been studied anywhere during that period. The details of the 187 students, revealed in the enquiry are mentioned below:-

1.

Actual No. of students studied in SNVUP School, Thalikulam during 2008-2009

72

2.

No. of Students studied in some other schools

80

3.

No. of students whose address have not been trace out

23

4.

No. of students have not been studied anywhere

04

5.

No. of students removed from the rolls. Immediately after strength inspection

08

 

Total

187

The report of the enquiry, submitted by the Circle Inspector of Police, Valappad showing the details of each students is also produced herewith.

11. "The Division Bench of the High Court after perusing the report submitted by the Superintendent of Police found that neither the finding of the DPI based on inspections by Super Check Cell nor the claim of the Parent Teachers Association was correct since the police had found that at least 72 out of 187 students declared bogus by the DPI were real students of the school. The High Court, therefore, concluded manipulation by the school management was obvious, though not to the extent found by the Super Check Cell based on which DPI had passed the impugned order. The Division Bench expressed anguish that the management had included 80 students studying in other schools as students of the present school. It was also noticed that as many as 23 students could not be traced by the police with the help of the postman, were also included in the register.

12. The Division Bench concluded that since the Super Check Cell, the Education Department lacked the investigating skill or the authority to collect information from the field, it would be appropriate that the verification of actual students in all the aided schools in the State would be done through the police. Holding so, the High Court gave the following direction: "We, therefore, feel as in this case Police should be entrusted to assist the Education Department by conducting enquiry about the actual and real students studying in every aided school in the State and pass on the same to the Education Department for them to fix or re-fix the staff strength based on the data furnished by the Police. We, therefore, direct the Secretary, Department of Education, to get verification of the actual students studying in all the aided schools in the State done through the police authorities and take appropriate action. It would be open to the Government to consider photo or finger identification of the students for avoiding manipulation in the school registers. The Government is directed to complete the process by the end of this academic year and file a report in this court.

13. "The State of Kerala, aggrieved by the various directions given by the Division Bench, has preferred this appeal. Ms. Liz Mathew, learned counsel appearing for the State of Kerala submitted that the High Court was not justified in giving a direction to the Secretary, Education Department in entrusting the task to State Police for verification of actual students 'strength in all the aided schools, while the enquiry is being conducted by the Education Department. Learned counsel submitted that Kerala Education Act and Rules did not prescribe any mechanism for conducting enquiries by the police at the time of staff fixation. The method to be adopted in the fixation of staff in various schools is prescribed under Chapter XXIII of KER and police have no role. The Rules empower the AEO, the DEO and the Super Check Cell etc. to conduct enquiries but not by the police. Learned counsel also pointed out that the presence of the police personnel in the aided schools in the States would not only cause embarrassment to the students studying in the school but would also cast wrong impression on the minds of the students about the conduct of their Headmaster, teachers and staff of the school.

14. We notice that the State itself had admitted in the petition that there should be a better mechanism to ascertain the number of students in the aided schools which could be done by finger printing or any other modern system so that the students could be properly identified and staff fixation could be done on the basis of relevant data. We, therefore, directed the State to evolve a better mechanism to overcome situations like the one which has occurred in the school. Fact finding authorities have categorically found that the school authorities had made bogus admissions and made wrong recording of attendance which led to the irregular and illegal fixation of staff strength of the school for the years 2008-09 and 2009-10.

15. An additional affidavit has been filed by the State of Kerala stating that the Government after much thought and deliberations formulated a scientific method to resolve the issue emanating from staff fixation orders every year. The affidavit says that the number of students in the school can be determined through Unique Identification Card (UID) technology and the number of divisions could be arrived at on the basis of revised pupil teacher ratio. Further, it is also pointed out that after implementation of UID as a part of scientific package, the government will remand the matter of identification of bogus admission to the DPI for considering issues afresh after corroborating the findings of Super Check Cell with UID details of the students. The State has issued a circular No. NEP (3)66183/2011 dated 12.10.2011 which, according to the State, would take care of such situations happening in various aided schools in the State.

16. We are of the view even though the Division Bench was not justified in directing police intervention, the situation that has unfolded in this case is the one that we get in many aided schools in the State. Many of the aided schools in the State, though not all, obtain staff fixation order through bogus admissions and misrepresentation of facts. Due to their regular fixation of staff, the State exchequer incurs heavy financial burden by way of pay and allowances. The State has also to expend public money in connection with the payment of various scholarships, lump-sum grant, noon-feeding, free books etc. to the bogus students.

17. A great responsibility is, therefore, cast on the General Education Department to curb such menace which not only burden the State exchequer but also will give a wrong signal to the society at large. The Management and the Headmaster of the school should be a role model to the young students studying in their schools and if themselves indulge in such bogus admissions and record wrong attendance of students for unlawful gain, how they can imbibe the guidelines of honesty, truth and values in life to the students. We are, however, of the view that the investigation by the police with regard to the verification of the school admission, register etc., particularly with regard to the admissions of the students in the aided schools will give a wrong signal even to the students studying in the school and the presence of the police itself is not conducive to the academic atmosphere of the schools. In such circumstances, we are inclined to set aside the directions given by the Division Bench for police intervention for verification of the students' strength in all the aided schools.

18. We are, however, inclined to give a direction to the Education Department, State of Kerala to forthwith give effect to a circular dated12.10.2011 to issue UID Card to all the school children and follow the guidelines and directions contained in their circular. Needless to say, the Government can always adopt, in future, better scientific methods to curb such types of bogus admissions in various aided schools.

19. We, however, find no reason to interfere with the direction given by the DPI to take further action to fix the liabilities for the irregularity committed in the school for the years 2008-09 and 2009-10, for which the appeal is pending before the State Government. The State Government will consider the appeal and take appropriate decision in accordance with law, if it is still pending. Appeal is allowed as above without any order as to costs.

.............................J. (K.S. Radhakrishnan)

.............................J. (Dipak Misra)

New Delhi,

February 6, 2013

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