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SC proposes extension of COVID-19 aid to all orphans

Legally SpeakingSC proposes extension of COVID-19 aid to all orphans

The Supreme Court has emphasised that regardless of the circumstances leading to the orphanhood of a child, they should be treated equally.

The court has asked the Centre about the possibility of extending the benefits of schemes, including the PM Cares fund, originally designed for children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic, to all orphans.

A bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra asked Additional Solicitor General Vikramjeet Banerjee, representing the Centre, to provide information on this matter.

The bench stated, “You have rightly brought out a policy for orphans, whose parents died due to the COVID pandemic. An orphan is an orphan, irrespective of whether the parents died in an accident or illness. By bringing these schemes, you are attending to the condition and not the parentage. You seek an instruction on whether benefits of schemes including PM Cares fund meant for children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic can be extended to other orphaned children.”

The ASG mentioned that he was recently assigned to appear in this case and would respond to the court’s query within four weeks. Petitioner Poulomi Pavini Shukla, who appeared in person, argued that children orphaned during the pandemic were provided benefits under the Right to Education Act, and similar benefits could be given to other orphaned children under the court’s direction. Shukla pointed out that Delhi and Gujarat had been providing benefits of the Right to Education Act to orphaned children through a simple government order under section 2(d) of the Right to Education Act, and this could be replicated in other states as well.

Section 2(d) of the Right to Education Act, 2009, deals with children belonging to disadvantaged groups, which includes Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, socially and educationally backward classes, or any other group facing disadvantages due to various factors. The bench acknowledged the submission and sought the Centre to consider the expression “such other group” in section 2(d) of the RTE Act and explore the possibility of extending benefits to all orphans through suitable directives.

Shukla pointed out that the notice on her plea had been issued in 2018, the year she filed the petition, but the Centre had not filed its response even after five years. Advocate Prashant Bhushan, also appearing in the matter, argued that orphaned children should receive the benefit of a 20 percent quota for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS), as provided to other children in school admissions.

The bench directed Banerjee to seek instructions and file a detailed affidavit, and it directed the states to submit their responses regarding the aspect of section 2(d) of the Right to Education Act.

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