Children from the disadvantaged sections of society will now have access to private schools as the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional validity of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009.
The Act makes it mandatory for all schools, except minority unaided (religious and linguistic minorities included), to reserve 25 per cent of seats for children from the disadvantaged sections, the burden of which will be borne by the government.
Many private schools had opposed the move saying that since they did not take any grants from the government, they could not be legally bound to reserve seats and also the per-child cost as suggested by the government was very low. The government spends between Rs.6,000 and Rs.18,000 a child annually on elementary education and this will form the broad basis for reimbursement under the RTE, though the final amount will vary from State to State.
However, the Supreme Court on Thursday upheld all provisions of the Act, and this will now help the government in enforcing the law effectively so that disadvantaged students can also have access to good quality education at the elementary level.
Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal expressed happiness at the verdict, saying it brought clarity and put all controversies to rest.
Talking to reporters, Mr. Sibal said litigation in court should never be seen as a victory or defeat — especially when the government was involved — because what the government was looking for from this litigation was clarity as it had an impact on millions of people.
“One of the biggest issues involved was [whether] 25 per cent reservation applies to private schools or not, which is also upheld by the SC, and it also does not apply to minority institutions. That controversy is also set at rest,” he said.
The Centre provides 65 per cent of the funds for school education under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan while the remaining is shelled out by the States. However, the 13th Finance Commission allocated additional resources when the Act was notified. This raised the sharing pattern to 68:32 between the Centre and the States. This will be applicable in 2013-14.
Welcoming the verdict, private schools in the Capital noted that they would need the government's support to ensure that “sustained quality education is imparted to all the children.”
Delhi Public School (Mathura Road) principal M.I. Hussain said: “Our school has been following the Delhi government's direction to provide reserved seats for students from the economically weaker section. This addition to the school, however, does put pressure on general students as the government has not made clear its stand on supporting the schools financially to take care of the EWS [Economically Weaker Section] students. We are committed to providing quality education but are not willing to tax paying parents beyond a limit.”
Springdales School (Pusa Road) principal Ameeta Mulla Wattal said: “We have been taking in 25 per cent EWS students at the entry level for the past three years.
RTE Forum convener Ambarish Rai welcomed the court's decision as a step towards bringing in greater equality of opportunity for all children in India.