The Supreme Court upheld the various provisions of the Right to Education Act, 2009. The apex court ruled that the RTE Act would apply to all categories of public and private schools except unaided minority schools.
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act or Right to Education Act (RTE), which was passed by the Indian parliament on 4 August 2009, describes the modalities of the provision of free and compulsory education for children between 6 and 14 in India under Article 21A of the Indian Constitution. India became one of 135 countries to make education a fundamental right of every child when the act came into force on 1 April 2010
The SC judgement makes it clear that all schools will have to keep aside 25% of seats for poor children. The SC said the judgement would come into effect from today. The SC said the RTE Act will not apply to those institutions run by minority organisations and which do not receive a single penny as aid either from the government or local bodies. The apex court also said that the RTE Act would not apply to boarding schools. A bench comprising Chief Justice S H Kapadia and justices K S Radhakrishnan and Swantanter Kumar, which had reserved its verdict on August 3 last year, pronounced the verdict on the RTE Act. The main petitioner Society for Un-aided Private Schools, Rajasthan, and a host of associations representing various private schools questioned the validity of the Act on the ground that it impinged on their rights to run the educational institutions.
Defining the right to education
The right to education has been universally recognised since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 (though referred to by the ILO as early as the 1920s) and has since been enshrined in various international conventions, national constitutions and development plans. However, while the vast majority of countries have signed up to, and ratified, international conventions (such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) far fewer have integrated these rights into their national constitutions or provided the legislative and administrative frameworks to ensure that these rights are realised in practice. In some cases the right exists along with the assumption that the user should pay for this right, undermining the very concept of a right. In others, the right exists in theory but there is no capacity to implement this right in practice. Inevitably, a lack of government support for the right to education hits the poorest hardest. Today, the right to education is still denied to millions around the world.
As well as being a right in itself, the right to education is also an enabling right. Education 'creates the "voice" through which rights can be claimed and protected', and without education people lack the capacity to 'achieve valuable functionings as part of the living'. If people have access to education they can develop the skills, capacity and confidence to secure other rights. Education gives people the ability to access information detailing the range of rights that they hold, and government's obligations. It supports people to develop the communication skills to demand these rights, the confidence to speak in a variety of forums, and the ability to negotiate with a wide range of government officials and power holders.
Burden not to be passed
After the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of Right to Education Act, the government allayed fears and dismissed suggestions that the burden which private schools will have to bear to implement the law will be passed on to students. The RTE Act mandates schools to provide free education to 25% of students from economically weaker sections between 6 to 14 years of age. "I do not think that will happen," Sibal said in a TV interview, adding, "I think there would be ways and means to raise resources." Sibal also assured that government will take care to ensure education to students coming from the margins of society after Class VIII when the provision of the Act comes to an end. Asked who will pay the tab for the 25% reservation, he said under the RTE Act, schools which have not taken any benefit from the government will be compensated by the government. "We have made the calculation," Sibal said.
However, he agreed that this was not sufficient and said that during the 12th five year plan, the government will provide school uniform and textbooks to students. Sibal also said that the schools can raise resources from their funds if they have surplus resources and they can also tap the funds provided by corporates through their corporate social responsibility obligation. "You have many corporates who are committed for corporate social responsibilities. Schools can actually tap their resources so that there is no burden on parents," Sibal added.
With this, the issue of targeted subsidy has assumed importance like never before. That these schools are going to be compensated, albeit partially, for their contribution to a pressing societal cause makes the issue amenable to examination from the subsidy angle as well. It is well-known that parents belonging to the weaker sections pine to give their children the best shot when it comes to education, and therefore have lapped up this opportunity as a godsend, unmindful of the chicanery practised by some schools in extracting a lumpsum in cash on one pretext or the other from parents. Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan in his dissenting judgement has, however, chosen to view the issue in a different light -- the government has passed the buck to private schools. There is considerable truth in his views.
Social activists have long fight to implement Right to Education in India. Taking a human rights-based approach means carefully planning work so that, for example, the poorest of the poor and those who suffer multiple discriminations, are reached. This approach involves a broad spectrum of people, from community members to grassroots activists to local, national and international NGOs, to trade unions and other civil society actors. And it means working in different ways with the range of stakeholders, at different moments in the process. It requires an understanding that sometimes governments might be collaborators: for example, if they are showing genuine interest in fulfilling their obligations; while at other moments they might be key targets: for example, if they continually fail to invest in delivering the range of human rights.
It is the need of the hour that all the children of the country must not only get education but a good quality education. Private schools with their good infrastructure can do it without compromising their quality aspect. Many industrialists have established premier institutions in the country like Shri Ram College of Commerce by Shri Ram group, Indian Institute of Science, Tata institute of Social Sciences, by Tata group, Birla Institute of Technology. These institutions are being run as public institutions.
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(The author teaches Rural Management in MGCG University, Chitrakoot)