In a major setback to the ruling Nitish Kumar government in Bihar, the Patna High Court today ruled that school children cannot be forced to join the government’s proposed human chain programme against dowry and child marriage, scheduled to be organised on 21 January.

In view of this order, the fate of the much-flaunted programme hangs in balance as the schoolchildren are considered the backbone of the function, which, according to experts, is meant more to make political gains than creating social awareness.

A bench of the High Court comprising chief justice Rajendra Menon passed this order today after hearing a petition filed by Nagrik Adhikar Manch, an NGO. The court also said that parents’ permission is mandatory for children to join the human chain programme and the government cannot initiate action against the children who wish to stay away from the function.

The state government has announced to form the world’s longest human chain against dowry and child marriage across the state, and has invited the Guinness Book of World Records as well as the Limca Book of World Records for coverage of the programme. The invite has been reportedly sent through emails.

The court passed the order after the petitioner said that the little schoolchildren were being pressurised by the state government to participate in the human chain even as severe cold wave has claimed many lives and paralysed normal life. According to the petitioner, while on one hand the local district administrations have been issuing orders to close down the schools because of severe cold conditions, on the other the education department has issued orders, asking for participation of children in human chain.

“How can the little children be forced out of their homes in this bone chilling cold and asked to participate in the programme?” asked the petitioner, adding there is nothing new to the state government’s programme and it was being done only with political motive.

At presently, the chief minister has been on the whirlwind tour of the state in course of his “Samiksha yatra”. Although the government claims that the chief minister’s move is aimed at reviewing the progress of development, the Opposition alleges the chief minister under the guise of yatra has been extending invites to the masses to join the human chain to make it a success.

Last year too, the state government had faced similar challenge after the Patna high court issued similar directive but the government was able to save its face as it got support from the RJD, its erstwhile partner which enjoys huge support among the common masses.

Now that the chief minister has swapped his allies, it’s to be seen how much he is able to get support from his NDA allies in his mission.