Why the Universal Periodic Review is a redundant practice: A case study of India’s Education Policy

“Education… is the key to unlocking other human rights.”

— Katarina Tomasevski, UN Special Rapporteur

While on paper each State aligns itself in conformity with the International Standards of Human Rights, perusal of the fine print would narrate a different story. The UPR process has left those analysing human rights and education in a conundrum. It is nothing short of a hope versus reality debate which has surrounded the policy-makers and will be haunting them for its failures ahead. On the face of it, the UPR process is viewed as a way forward to achieving utopia, however, like other non-binding State-driven mechanism, it is a mere procedure used for creating a mirage.


The Universal Periodic Review is a State-driven process, which gives every State party an opportunity to showcase what action they have taken to protect and improve human rights in their countries. It was created to maintain a regular review process of human rights records of all the member States[1]. Its purpose was to remind States of their obligation to protect and respect human rights and to finally improve the situation of human rights in their respective countries.

In practice, the UPR mechanism is drafted in such a way, which represents all the views regarding the ongoing problems in the State. While the State showcases its efforts of curbing human rights violation and its rigorous attempts to move towards an ideal State, the stakeholders report and the compilation of UN information usually offers a critical analysis and sometimes counter-narratives of the policies, laws and the general practice of law enforcement agencies. This is offered through the perspective of NGOs, national human rights institutions, academic sources and other regional organisations, who hold credible and reliable country information[2].

A country is under review once in four years, and has the duty to engage in a constructive and open dialogue with the Council[3]. The Universal Period Review is often seen as a critical avenue for promoting human rights due to its reliance on principles of participation and accountability[4]. However, even after having such an extensive process of reviewing States and allotting accountability, it is observed that the UPR process is ineffective. Its non-binding nature, makes the whole exercise of reviewing State parties redundant.

The case of India, serves as a perfect example in analysing how Universal Periodic Review as an activity is done as a mere obligation to fulfil international obligations. The 2012 Report is an example of how, the State has failed to adhere to the recommendation that were made in the report with respect to right to education, therefore also being unable to fulfil their tripartite obligations of respecting, protecting and fulfilling the rights of the individuals in the State.

India’s education policy crisis

As per the national report, the right to education has been incorporated as a fundamental right along with the RTE Act, 2009. The law has been used to provide education for all its citizens who fall between the age group of 6-14 years[5]. The report also states the successful implementation of Integrated Child Development Services, which involved strengthening of pre-school education, to prepare children, specially from the disadvantaged groups for formal schooling.

The stakeholders report highlighted certain lapses that existed in the implementation of the education policy. It stated that the quality of education and the school infrastructure in the villages had been dismal. Furthermore, it also stated that the learning levels and the literacy levels were low. The UN compilation report further went on to state that there was a wide disparity between the enrollment rate and the dropout rates in the primary schools. The report also highlighted, that on various occasions discrimination had taken place among SC, ST in these educational institutions.

The purpose of this review process was to make sure that the State takes action in order to curb the aforesaid issues. However, post 2012, the situation is the same if not worsened. It has been observed that infrastructure facilities are not sufficient in many government schools in different parts of the country[6]. The Government has been unable to tackle the problem of high dropout rates till now. States like Manipur have a dropout rate as high as 18 per cent[7]. Furthermore, in 2012-2013 dropout rates in the government schools was 50.4 per cent and in 2013-2014 it was 47.4 per cent[8].

Moreover, caste-based discrimination was observed in schools during the mid-day meal. There have been cases in Bihar, where higher caste students were bringing their own plates from home so that they could avoid eating from a plate used by an underprivileged classmate. In Madhya Pradesh, it was reported that upper castes students would sit separately during meals. Moreover, there were cases, where cooks from lower castes were not allowed to cook food in schools that served the upper castes.[9] There have also been cases where Dalit students were targeted in government schools[10].

The quality of education is one of the biggest setbacks that the education policy is facing which has been addressed in both stakeholders and the UN compilation report. According to Sen, “Teaching methods are quite often dominated by mindless rote learning, including repetition typically without comprehension.”[11] The neglect of primary education has been “intolerably large” in the country[12]. The annual status of Education Report, stated that the learning outcomes of the students had fallen by 15 per cent since 2013[13]. Moreover, it was found that, on an average teachers do not take classes one out of five days in government schools in Uttar Pradesh.[14]

Apart from the education policy there are various other policies (related to education) that have lapses in their implementation. The basic fault with the UPR process is that it restricts the report of the stakeholders and the UN compilation to a few pages. This affects the substance of the report and causes hindrance in making effective criticism.

The Integrated Child Development Service and the forgotten review

The Integrated Child Development Services was created to focus on children between the age of 2-6 years. The role of the State to provide positive rights like education and health specially extends to dependants who are at a crucial stage of growth. One of the key roles is played by Anganwadis which serve as a “day care centre” for children. The purpose is to prepare the underprivileged students for school and help tackle the problem of malnutrition, infant and maternal mortality and immunisation[15]. However, there have been various cases where the structure of Anganwadis have failed. It was found that in some cases Anganwadis were used as a tool to siphon money and food grains. Furthermore, it was found that most of the people were not able to receive its services.

According to National Family Health Survey 3, countrywide though 81.1% children under age 6 years were covered by AWCs, children who received any service from AWC were only 28.4%[16]. Some of the common problems that were observed in a case study of Gujarat were inadequate indoor and outdoor space, non-availability of separate kitchen, storage and toilet facilities and safe drinking water[17]. All these problems deprive the recipient citizens from their right to health and later attainment of education.

It is to be noted, that there has been widespread acknowledgement of these problems by academicians and public authorities, however, it failed to make it to the stakeholders and UN compilation report, despite being glorified in the national report. It is a prima facie case of deprivation of economic and social rights by the State, knowingly or due to sheer ignorance. It can be thus said that UPR process has failed to acknowledge important issues that form the prerequisite for the national educational policy which has been critiqued in the report.

Conclusion: Going back to the start

The recommendation made by the stakeholders in the 2017 reports are somewhat like those made in 2012. The emphasis on human rights education has again been made, while clearly pointing that “new education policy does not mention human rights education”. Furthermore, the report also stated, that the infrastructure was in a “dismal condition”. The UN compilation report stated that around 17.8 million students did not attend school. The problems of caste-based discrimination persist in educational institution.

All these problems do not just highlight that the State has failed to take actions, but also show how UPR is a failure because of its non-binding nature. The nature of review is just to “remind” the State of its “tripartite obligation” to respect, protect and fulfil its duty towards its citizens. It is up to the State to take charge and implement policies or fill in the loopholes in the existing policies. The case of India is a clear depiction of how after four years, the State is “almost” where it was in 2012. The whole exercise of State bashing for its failures is therefore redundant.


*  IVth year student, BA LLB (Hons.) and Board Member, Legal Aid Clinic, Jindal Global Law School.

[1]  Universal Periodic Review, <http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/ UPRMain. aspx>.

[2]  Markus Schmidt, United Nations.

[3]  Markus Schmidt, United Nations.

[4]  Gilmore, Kate, Luis Mora, Alfonso Barragues and Ida Krogh Mikkelsen, The Universal Periodic Review: A Platform for Dialogue, Accountability, and Change on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Health and Human Rights 17, No. 2 (2015), 167-79 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/healhumarigh.17.2.167>.

[5]  Elementary Education, Right to Education, Department of School Education and Literacy, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, <http://mhrd.gov.in/ sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/upload_document/RTE_Section_wise_rationale_rev_0.pdf>.

[6]  Why RTE Implementation Needs Rethinking: Observations from Sonipat, Haryana, Shivkrit Rai and Deepanshu Mohan, The Wire, 7-4-2017, <https://thewire.in/121455/rte-implementation-sonipat-haryana/>.

[7]  Why children dropout from primary school, G. Sampath, The Hindu, 11-12-2016, <http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Why-children-drop-out-from-primary-school/article16792949.ece>.

[8]  Educational Statistics at a Glance, Government of India, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Bureau of Planning, Monitoring & Statistics, New Delhi, 2014 <http://Mhrd.Gov.In/Sites/Upload_Files/Mhrd/Files/Statistics/Eag2014_0.Pdf>.

[9]  Caste discrimination mars midday meal scheme, Shawn Sebastian, UCAN India 19-8-2013, <http://www.ucanindia.in/news/caste-discrimination-mars-midday%C2%A0meal-scheme/21700/daily>.

[10]  Beaten up for being a Dalit, good student, Santosh Singh, Indian Express, 20-10-2016, <http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/beaten-up-for-being-a-dalit-good-student-bihar-boy-in-video/>.

[11]  Amartya Sen and Jean Drèze, An Uncertain Glory: India and its ContradictionsSee also, Poor education holding back India: World Bank, Prashant K. Nanda, Livemint, 30-6-2014, <http://www.livemint.com/Politics/PeGjQGgniLr5GAb9NJ4paN/Poor-education-holding-back-India-World-Bank.html>.

[12]  Amartya Sen and Jean Drèze, An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions.

[13]  Poor education holding back India: World Bank, Prashant K. Nanda, Livemint, 30-6-2014, <http://www.livemint.com/Politics/PeGjQGgniLr5GAb9NJ4paN/Poor-education-holding-back-India-World-Bank.html>.

[14]  Poor State education in India threatens the futures of millions of children, the Guardian, June 2014, <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/11/india-education-state-private-school>.

[15]  An organisational problem, Renu Pokhrana, Livemint, 25-1-2015, <http://www.livemint.com/ Opinion/Xag4j2YHXaiW0sfN49vqiI/An-organizational-problem.html>.

[16]  Rajesh K. Chudasama, Umed V. Patel, Pramod B. Verma, Mayur Vala, Matib Rangoonwala, Ankit Sheth, Ankit Viramgami, Evaluation of Anganwadi centres performance under Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) program in Gujarat State, India during year 2012-2013, Journal of Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences, Vol. 20, Issue 1-3-2015, <http://www.jmgims.co.in/temp/JMahatmaGandhiInstMedSci20160-7122105_194701.pdf>.

[17]  Rajesh K. Chudasama, Umed V. Patel, Pramod B. Verma, Mayur Vala, Matib Rangoonwala, Ankit Sheth, Ankit Viramgami, Evaluation of Anganwadi centres performance under Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) program in Gujarat State, India during year 2012-2013, Journal of Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences, Vol. 20, Issue 1-3-2015, <http://www.jmgims.co.in/temp/JMahatmaGandhiInstMedSci20160-7122105_ 194701.pdf>.

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