To deny admission to underprivileged Indian children on “technical grounds” is against the spirit of the Right to Education Act.
In India, Jagdish Gandhi, the founder and manager of City Montessori School in Lucknow, recently published full-page advertisements in local editions of all national dailies. In these ads, he claimed that even though he would like to admit children under section 12(1)(c) of the Right to Education Act (RTE), the children whose admissions were ordered by the district magistrate and the basic shiksha adhikari (district level education officer) did not fulfill one or more criteria required for enrollment. According to Gandhi, the children either live more than a kilometer away — the definition of “neighborhood” stated by the Uttar Pradesh state government and a necessary criterion to be fulfilled by children seeking admission under the RTE Act — or were under 6 years old as the legislation applies only to those between 6 and 14.
In a High Court ruling by Justice Saumitra Dayal Singh on August 9 regarding the admission of Chaitanya Dev to kindergarten class at a school in Allahabad, the court said that for schools which run kindergarten, preparatory or nursery classes, the provisions of the act apply even if the child is under 6 years old. The school claimed that Dev did not live in the neighborhood. On this, the judge reprimanded the educational institution, saying that since it had not admitted even one student against the 202 seats that were reserved for children from disadvantaged groups and low-income families, the criterion of neighborhood was irrelevant. Only if the school had admitted 25% of underprivileged children would the question of neighborhood have been examined.
The judge took the school to task, stating that since it had wasted one full year of the child’s education, it was now the school’s responsibility to educate Dev until grade 12 instead of the stipulated grade eight. The state government will compensate the education of the child from grades one to eight at the rate of Rs450 ($7) per month, but the school will have to cover the cost of Dev’s education until grade 12. Justice Singh added that if any of the buses run by the school to transfer its students go in the direction of Dev’s house, then the school must provide a free bus service to him for the duration of his education.
It is hoped that after such a strict ruling by the High Court, schools that have failed to register children under the RTE Act will now stop resisting the entry of those from disadvantaged groups and low-income families into their institutions. The judge said that denying enrollment to children under section 12(1)(c) of the act on technical grounds is against the spirit of the legislation. The act was implemented in 2009 to facilitate the admission of children who are denied education. If private schools put all their energy into blocking the admission of underprivileged children, then the act has simply failed.
PREVENTING A CHILD FROM BEING EDUCATED
Citing the RTE Act, Gandhi challenged the admission of 31 children in the 2015-16 academic year. The High Court and then the Supreme Court ordered him to admit 13 out of these 31 children who lived within 1 kilometer of the school. In 2016-17, Gandhi again refused to register 55 children, 14 of whose cases are still in court even after the academic year has ended.
Imitating City Montessori School, several other educational institutions failed to admit a total of 105 children in 2016-17. These include Navyug Radiance, owned by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sudhir Halwasiya; City International, owned by Jagdish Gandhi’s daughter, Sunita Gandhi; Dr. Virendra Swaroop Public School, Mahanagar; and two branches of Saint Mary Intermediate College. In the 2017-18 academic year, 296 admissions have been ordered by the local administration. Of the 167 children who have approached City Montessori School, all of them have been rejected. According to the school, 117 of them live outside the limit of 1 kilometer; 135 are under 6 years old; 89 are already enrolled in other schools; and 38 do not qualify to be in the economically disadvantaged category. Some of the children fail on more than one criterion.
The number of schools that are defiant about not admitting children under the act is going up every year as a result of the stance taken by City Montessori School. It is because of this institution that admission to schools under section 12(1)(c) has become an uphill battle.
If Gandhi is right in claiming that all admissions ordered by the local administration are in violation of the act, then action must be taken against the basic shiksha adhikari. However, if the administration is correct, then the state government must take action against City Montessori School.
An important question that arises is whether Gandhi has a right to examine the criteria required for admission for each child who is admitted to his school. If in this manner every non-governmental person started examining the correctness of the government’s decision, then the entire work of government could come to a standstill.
In the advertisements published by Gandhi in which he provided reasons for not admitting children under the RTE Act, he also claimed that he and his wife Bharti Gandhi do not own any private property, jewelry or have large bank balances. The question that must be asked is where Jagdish Gandhi is getting the funds from to publish expensive ads and hire costly lawyers? Is it from the fees he charges to study at the 20 campuses of City Montessori School? Does he have a right to waste the hard-earned cash of families on contesting the admissions of underprivileged children?
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.