Srinagar, Nov 1: With increasing number of schools being burned in the Valley triggering an outrage, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court stepped in on Monday.
The court directed the police and civil administration to ensure protection of schools besides unmasking the "mysterious enemies of education" and deal with them with an "iron hand".
As various sections condemned such incidents, the state government pointed accusing fingers at separatists while the central government termed these as acts driven by the "combination of madness and perversion" and asked people of the Valley to realise that those responsible are acting at the behest of the enemy "across the border".
A division bench of the J&K High Court took suo motu cognizance of the reports about 26 schools being burned in Kashmir Valley over the past 115 days of the unrest which started following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani in early July.
The bench observed that the mysterious burning of centres of learning has sent shock waves awakening all to ponder.
"Education is the main factor for intellectual excellence and prosperity. Imparting education in the centres of learning has no other viable substitute," it added.
"All the three responsible officers present in the court are directed to sit together along with higher authorities and lower officials and to devise modes and methods which will be effective in protecting school institutions," said the bench of Justices Mohammad Yaqoob Mir and Ali Mohammad Magrey.
The directions were issued to the Inspector General of Police, the Divisional Commissioner and the Director of School Education of Kashmir.
The court listed the case for next hearing on November 7 and directed the three officials to remain present.
The court also directed the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police to issue necessary instructions to their district level officers including Deputy Commissioners and SPs to take all preventive measures as shall be necessary for saving the school buildings from being burnt and to ensure that no other school building is harmed or destroyed.
"Further the mysterious enemies of education shall be unmasked and dealt with iron hand," the court said.
The bench lashed out at the state government, saying the "administrative authorities are required to have resort to protective measures but they are still in deep slumber, appear not to have devised any protective policy for protecting school buildings".
The court also expressed hope that the "mysterious persons" will stop burning school buildings and "also hope that the citizens will also help in protecting school buildings".
Pointing accusing fingers at separatists, Education Minister Naeem Akhtar said, "burning of schools is one of the ploys to keep the fire burning (in Kashmir)... It is the same people who are promoting looting of banks, torching of shops and vehicles, stoning innocents, intimidation of citizens, who are responsible for burning the educational institutes."
Asserting that "no inquiry is needed to find out who is behind all this", he said, "It is those people who have created this tirade against education, because they see it as a threat to their vested interests."
Akhtar said the separatists had mounted a tiger and are now trying hard to keep the conflict going.
Targeting Yasin Malik, the minister said in the initial phase, the JKLF chief and others were "at the forefront of driving the shutdowns but now they have distanced themselves and thrown the ball solely in the court of (hardline Hurriyat Conference chairman) Syed Ali Shah Geelani."
Condemning the burning down of schools in Kashmir, state Congress chief G A Mir said it is an attack on the future of children and the culprits must be identified for sternest punishment.
The former Tourism Minister said it the inefficiency and incompetence of the State, which is not able to protect the infrastructure in the valley and secure the future of children from being getting ruined.
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said the government is watching as a "mute and helpless spectator" to the burning of schools.
"The government cannot absolve itself of the responsibility of safeguarding the public education infrastructure in the state and the safety of our schools, our teachers and our students has to be ensured at all costs," the former Chief Minister added.
In Delhi, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said, "This is nothing but a combination of madness and perversion. Otherwise how can anybody think of setting fire to educational institutions which are importing education and knowledge to our own children."