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Home Cases of interest Supreme Court of India on Right to Education

Supreme Court of India on Right to Education

Society for Un-aided Private Schools of Rajasthan vs. Union of India (UOI) and Anr

Date of Judgment : April 12, 2012

The issue before the Supreme Court was whether ‘ The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009’ is constitutionally valid or not?

 

Validity and applicability of the 2009 Act qua unaided non-minority schools: The Court discussed the scope of Article 21A: It provide that the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of 6 to 14 years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine. Thus, under the said Article, the obligation is on the State to provide free and compulsory education to all children of specified age. However, under the said Article, the manner in which the said obligation will be discharged by the State has been left to the State to determine by law. Thus, the State may decide to provide free and compulsory education to all children of the specified age through its own schools or through government aided schools or through unaided private schools. The question is whether such a law transgresses any constitutional limitation? The first and foremost principle is that what is enjoined by the directive principles (in this case Articles 41, 45 and 46) must be upheld as a “reasonable restriction” under Articles 19(2) to 19(6). When the courts are required to decide whether the impugned law infringes a fundamental right, the courts need to ask the question whether the impugned law infringes a fundamental right within the limits justified by the directive principles or whether it goes beyond them. Thus it is required to interpret the fundamental rights in the light of the directive principles. The above principles are very relevant in the case because the very content of Article 21A comes from reading of Articles 41, 45 and 46 and, more particularly, from Article 45 (as it then stood before the Constitution (Eighty sixth Amendment) Act, 2002). Right to live in Article 21 covers access to education. But unaffordability defeats that access. It defeats the State’s endeavour to provide free and compulsory education for all children of the specified age. To provide for right to access education, Article 21A was enacted to give effect to Article 45 of the Constitution. Under Article 21A, right is given to the State to provide by law “free and compulsory education”. Article 21A contemplates making of a law by the State. Thus, Article 21A contemplates right to education flowing from the law to be made which is the 2009 Act, which is child centric and not institution centric. Thus, as stated, Article 21A provide that the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the specified age in such manner as the State may, by law, determine. The manner in which this obligation will be discharged by the State has been left to the State to determine by law. The 2009 Act is thus enacted in terms of Article 21A. It has been enacted primarily to remove all barriers (including financial barriers) which impede access to education. One more aspect needs to be highlighted. It is not in dispute that education is a recognised head of “charity” (T.M.A. Pai Foundation v. State of Karnataka (2002) 8 SCC 481). Therefore, even according to T.M.A. Pai Foundation, if an educational institution goes beyond “charity” into commercialization, it would not be entitled to protection of Article 19(1)(g). This is where the paradox comes in. If education is an activity which is charitable, could the unaided non-minority educational institution contend that the intake of 25% children belonging to weaker section and disadvantaged group only in class I as provided for in Section 12(1)(c) would constitute violation of Article 19(1)(g) Would such a provision not be saved by the principle of reasonable restriction imposed in the interest of the general public in Article 19(6) of the Constitution?

 

On the question of reasonableness, though subject-wise, Article 21A deal with access to education as against right to establish and administer educational institution in Article 19(1)(g), it is now not open to anyone to contend that the law relating to right to access education within Article 21A does not have to meet the requirement of Article 14 or Article 19 for its reasonableness. Applying the principle of reasonableness, though the right to access education falls as a subject matter under Article 21A and though to implement the said Article, Parliament has enacted the 2009 Act, one has to judge the validity of the said Act in the light of the principle of reasonableness in Article 19(6), particularly, when in T.M.A. Pai Foundation and in P.A. Inamdar v. State of Maharashtra (2005) 6 SCC 537, it has been held that right to establish and administer an educational institution falls under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. Thus, the question which arises for determination is whether Section 12(1)(c) of the 2009 Act is a reasonable restriction on the non-minority’s right to establish and administer an unaided educational institution under Article 19(6). By judicial decisions, right to education has been read into right to life in Article 21. A child who is denied right to access education is not only deprived of his right to live with dignity, he is also deprived of his right to freedom of speech and expression enshrined in Article 19(1)(a). The 2009 Act seeks to remove all those barriers including financial and psychological barriers which a child belonging to the weaker section and disadvantaged group has to face while seeking admission. It is true that, as held in T.M.A. Pai Foundation as well as P.A. Inamdar, the right to establish and administer an educational institution is a fundamental right, as long as the activity remains charitable under Article 19(1)(g), however, in the said two decisions the correlation between Articles 21 and 21A, on the one hand, and Article 19(1)(g), on the other, was not under consideration. Further, the content of Article 21A flows from Article 45 (as it then stood). The 2009 Act has been enacted to give effect to Article 21A. For the above reasons, since the Article 19(1)(g) right is not an absolute right as Article 30(1), the 2009 Act cannot be termed as unreasonable. To put an obligation on the unaided non-minority school to admit 25% children in class I under Section 12(1)(c) cannot be termed as an unreasonable restriction. Such a law cannot be said to transgress any constitutional limitation. The object of the 2009 Act is to remove the barriers faced by a child who seeks admission to class I and not to restrict the freedom under Article 19(1)(g).

The next question that arose for determination was whether Section 12(1)(c) of the 2009 Act impede the right of the non- minority to establish and administer an unaided educational institution? Article 19(6) is a saving and enabling provision in the Constitution as it empowers the Parliament to make a law imposing reasonable restriction on the Article 19(1)(g) right to establish and administer an educational institution while Article 21A empowers the Parliament to enact a law as to the manner in which the State will discharge its obligation to provide for free and compulsory education. If the Parliament enacts the law, pursuant to Article 21A, enabling the State to access the network (including infrastructure) of schools including unaided non-minority schools would such a law be said to be unconstitutional, not saved under Article 19(6)? Answer is in the negative. Firstly, it must be noted that the expansive provisions of the 2009 Act are intended not only to guarantee the right to free and compulsory education to children, but to set up an intrinsic regime of providing right to education to all children by providing the required infrastructure and compliance of norms and standards. Secondly, unlike other fundamental rights, the right to education places a burden not only on the State, but also on the parent/ guardian of every child (Article 51A(k)). Thus, the State can regulate by law the activities of the private institutions by imposing reasonable restrictions under Article 19(6). After the commencement of the 2009 Act, by virtue of Section 12(1)(c) read with Section 2(n)(iv), the State, while granting recognition to the private unaided non-minority school, may specify permissible percentage of the seats to be earmarked for children who may not be in a position to pay their fees or charges. A condition in Section 12(1)(c) imposed while granting recognition to the private unaided non-minority school cannot be termed as unreasonable. Such a condition would come within the principle of reasonableness in Article 19(6). Thus the Court held that section 12(1)(c) also satisfy the test of reasonableness, apart from the test of classification in Article 14.

Whether Section 12(1)(c) run counter to the judgments of T.M.A. Pai Foundation and P.A. Inamdar or principles laid down therein?

The Supreme Court observed that the present case concerned with the interplay of Article 21, Article 21A, on the one hand, and the right to establish and administer educational institution under Article 19(1)(g) read with Article 19(6). That was not the issue in T.M.A. Pai Foundation nor in P.A. Inamdar. The present case concerned with the validity of the law enacted pursuant to Article 21A placing restrictions on the right to establish and administer educational institutions (including schools) and not the validity of the Scheme evolved in Unni Krishnan, J.P. v. State of Andhra Pradesh (1993) 1 SCC 645. The judgments in T.M.A. Pai Foundation and P.A. Inamdar were not concerned with interpretation of Article 21A and the 2009 Act. It is true that the above two judgments have held that all citizens have a right to establish and administer educational institutions under Article 19(1)(g), however, the question as to whether the provisions of the 2009 Act constituted a restriction on that right and if so whether that restriction was a reasonable restriction under Article 19(6) was not in issue. Moreover, the controversy in T.M.A. Pai Foundation arose in the light of the scheme framed in Unni Krishnan’s case and the judgment in P.A. Inamdar was almost a sequel to the directions in Islamic Academy of Education v. State of Karnataka (2003) 6 SCC 697 in which the entire focus was Institution centric and not child centric and that too in the context of higher education and professional education where the level of merit and excellence have to be given a different weightage than the one we have to give in the case of Universal Elementary Education for strengthening social fabric of democracy through provision of equal opportunities to all and for children of weaker section and disadvantaged group who seek admission not to higher education or professional courses but to Class I.

P.A. Inamdar held that right to establish and administer educational institution fall in Article 19(1)(g). It further held that seat-sharing, reservation of seats, fixing of quotas, fee fixation, cross-subsidization, etc. imposed by judge-made scheme in professional/ higher education is an unreasonable restriction applying the principles of Voluntariness, Autonomy, Co-optation and Anti- nationalisation, and, lastly, it dealt with inter-relationship of Articles 19(1)(g), 29(2) and 30(1) in the context of the minority and non-minority’s right to establish and administer educational institutions. The Court observed that on reading T.M.A. Pai Foundation and P.A. Inamdar in proper perspective, it become clear that the said principles have been applied in the context of professional/ higher education where merit and excellence have to be given due weightage and which tests do not apply in cases where a child seeks admission to class I and when the impugned Section 12(1)(c) seeks to remove the financial obstacle. Thus, if one read the 2009 Act including Section 12(1)(c) in its application to unaided non-minority school(s), the same is saved as reasonable restriction under Article 19(6).

There are boarding schools and orphanages in several parts of India. In those institutions, there are day scholars and boarders. The 2009 Act could only apply to day scholars. It cannot be extended to boarders. The Court recommended that appropriate guidelines be issued under Section 35 of the 2009 Act clarifying the above position.

Validity and applicability of the 2009 Act qua unaided minority schools:

The intention of the Parliament is that the minority educational institution referred to in Article 30(1) is a separate category of institutions which needs protection of Article 30(1) and thus unaided minority school(s) need special protection under Article 30(1). Article 30(1) is not conditional as Article 19(1)(g). In a sense, it is absolute as the Constitution framers thought that it was the duty of the Government of the day to protect the minorities in the matter of preservation of culture, language and script via establishment of educational institutions for religious and charitable purposes (Article 26). Reservations of 25% in such unaided minority schools result in changing the character of the schools if right to establish and administer such schools flows from the right to conserve the language, script or culture, which right is conferred on such unaided minority schools. Thus, the 2009 Act including Section 12(1)(c) violate the right conferred on such unaided minority schools under Article 30(1). However in case of aided minority schools, Article 30(1) is subject to Article 29(2). The said Article confer right of admission upon every citizen into a State-aided educational institution. Article 29(2) refer to an individual right. It is not a class right. It applies when an individual is denied admission into an educational institution maintained or aided by the State. The 2009 Act is enacted to remove barriers such as financial barriers which restrict his/her access to education. It is enacted pursuant to Article 21A. Applying the above tests, the Supreme Court held that the 2009 Act is constitutionally valid qua aided minority schools.

Conclusion:

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 is constitutionally valid and shall apply to the following:

(i) a school established, owned or controlled by the appropriate Government or a local authority;

(ii) an aided school including aided minority school(s) receiving aid or grants to meet whole or part of its expenses from the appropriate Government or the local authority;

(iii) a school belonging to specified category; and

(iv) an unaided non-minority school not receiving any kind of aid or grants to meet its expenses from the appropriate Government or the local authority.

The 2009 Act and in particular Sections 12(1)(c) and 18(3) infringe the fundamental freedom guaranteed to unaided minority schools under Article 30(1) and, thus the 2009 Act shall not apply to such schools.