Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of AM Khanwilkar*, Dinesh Maheshwari and CT Ravikumar, JJ has directed the Central Government to notify the norms and standards of pupil-teacher ratio for special schools and also separate norms for special teachers who alone can impart education and training to Children/Child with Special Needs (CwSN) in the general schools. While the Petitions before the Court pertained to State of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab only, the extensive direction issued by the Court will apply pan India.
What was the case about?
Petitions were filed before the Supreme Court to espouse the cause of teachers having B.Ed. (Special) and D.Ed. (Special) degree/diploma courses and fully trained to cater to the requirements of Children/Child with Special Needs also known as Divyang, including to impart them education and make them independent.
According to the petitioners, there is a need to appoint 73,888 special teachers on regular basis to teach 3,69,443 CwSN in the State of Uttar Pradesh and equally large number in the State of Punjab so as to fulfil the required pupil-teacher ratio i.e., 5:1.
The thrust of the grievance in the writ petition was about the illegality being committed by the concerned State and its Authorities in employing them in recognised schools on contract basis without any certainty of tenure.
Analysis of the relevant Statutes
Rehabilitation Council of India Act, 1992
According to Section 13 of the Rehabilitation Council of India Act, 1992, a rehabilitation professional who possesses prescribed qualification and is so recognized by and enrolled on the Register of the Council alone can practice as rehabilitation professional anywhere in India, including as a special teacher. That is to say that no other person (not possessing such recognition and not being registered with the Council) can engage himself in serving the handicapped persons, CwSN in particular, or impart education to them, for that would be a contravention and punishable under Section 13(3) reproduced above.
“Indeed, this enactment in a way is a general law, but would still govern the special teachers engaged by any school/institution for imparting education and training to CwSN. They must fulfil this requirement over and above the qualifications prescribed under the special law concerning registration and recognition of schools and maintaining minimum standards for imparting quality education.”
Scheme of Integrated Education for the Disabled Children 1992
With the need to have a formalized scheme for imparting quality education to CwSN in absence of any specific law on that subject, the Union framed the 1992 Scheme.
“There was a phenomenal expansion of educational opportunities in the post-independence period, yet the children with disabilities were left out of that growth in educational facilities. To include CwSN to achieve the goal of education for all, the 1992 Scheme was formulated providing for educational opportunities to CwSN in general schools and to facilitate their retention in the school system.”
The Scheme further recognized that CwSN who were placed in special schools should also be integrated into general schools, once they acquired the communication and daily living skills at a functional level. Indisputably, concern was felt as a substantial number of persons with disability in India were not able to pursue even primary/secondary level education much less to complete their basic education in a formal school. To encourage them and to facilitate their retention in the school system, the 1992 Scheme was propounded which stated that the pupil¬teacher ratio be maintained in the concerned schools and their qualifications and training.
Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009
There was a paradigm shift in the approach of imparting education to children between the age of 6 and 14 years consequent to the enactment of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. This Act generally applies to all the schools, be it a general school or a special school and attempts to universalise education and to open new vistas for providing free and compulsory inclusive elementary education to all and more importantly quality education in the neighbourhood school.
However, the 2009 Act merely attempts to expressly include “child with disability” by inserting Section 2(ee) and Section 3(3) vide the 2012 amendment, but makes no corresponding changes to the “Norms and Standards for a School” specified in the Schedule to the Act.
“The Central Government in exercise of the enabling power in Section 20, by now, ought to have provided suitable norms and standards for a general school admitting CwSN for providing inclusive, free, and compulsory education in a neighbourhood school, and separately for the special school which also is covered within the expansive definition of schools in Section 2(n) of the 2009 Act.”
However, the norms and standards, in particular regarding pupil-teacher ratio, specified in the Schedule of the 2009 Act, are only to delineate the minimum benchmark. It is open to the State Government, being the appropriate Government, to provide for a higher benchmark for ensuring imparting of quality education by the schools within its jurisdiction. Further, besides the benchmark specified in the Schedule or by the appropriate Government, as the case may be, it is always open to the school management to appoint more teachers on their own than the notified pupil-teacher ratio, if they so desire, for ensuring imparting of quality education to its students.
Rights of Persons with Disability Act, 2016
The 2016 Act, in a way, is a general enactment for giving effect to the rights of persons with disabilities which includes the CwSN. But, when it comes to subject of education, a separate Chapter has been provided for fastening responsibility coupled with duty upon the appropriate Government, local authorities and the concerned educational institutions in matters specified therein (Sections 16 and 17). The purport of these provisions is to make available a platform to the CwSN to avail the rights of full participation by means of inclusive and quality education in the neighbourhood school.
“For giving effect to this mandate, it is essential for the concerned authority and more particularly for the schools imparting education to CwSN, to ensure that a just pupil¬teacher ratio is maintained without exception, including as specified under the law made by the Parliament or the scheme enunciated by the executive in that regard.”
Directions issued by the Supreme Court
- The Central Government must forthwith notify the norms and standards of pupil¬teacher ratio for special schools and also separate norms for special teachers who alone can impart education and training to CwSN in the general schools; and until such time, as a stopgap arrangement adopt the recommendations made by the State Commissioner, NCT of Delhi
“As a stopgap arrangement until the competent authority formulates a comprehensive action plan including to specify the norms and standards regarding pupil-teacher ratio to be maintained by the concerned schools imparting education to CwSN, we are persuaded to adopt the pupil¬teacher ratio ascertained in this decision as 8:1 for children with cerebral palsy; 5:1 for children with intellectual disability, ASD and specific learning disabilities; and 2:1 for deaf-blind and a combination of two or more of the seven disabilities mentioned in the recommendation… . Indeed, the teachers to be so appointed need to be duly qualified, recognized and registered with the Council in light of Section 13 of the 1992 Act.”
- To create commensurate permanent posts as per the just ratio to be specified by the competent authority for the rehabilitation professionals/special teachers who can cater to the needs of CwSN;
- To initiate appointment process to fill-in vacancies for the posts so created for rehabilitation professionals/special teachers for being appointed on regular basis. The same shall be completed within six months from the date of this order or before the commencement of academic year 2022¬ 2023, whichever is earlier;
- To overcome the shortage of resource persons (rehabilitation professionals/special trained teachers), the training schools/institutions must take steps to augment the number whilst ensuring that the norms and standards specified under the governing laws and regulations including that of the Council for grant of recognition and registration are fulfilled;
- Until sufficient number of special teachers becomes available for general schools and special schools, the services of special trained teachers can be availed as itinerant teachers as per the SSS within the school block (cluster schools) to optimize the resource persons and as a stopgap arrangement;
- The other teachers and staff in the general schools be given compulsory training and sensitized to handle the CwSN in the general schools, if admitted; and
- The authorities may also explore the possibility of merging unviable special schools with relatively viable special schools in the neighbourhood, so as to entail in consolidation of assets and resources for better delivery to the requirements of CwSN.
With a view to ensure that the directions are effectively complied with, the Court directed the State Commissioners appointed under Section 79 of the 2016 Act in the concerned States/Union Territories to forthwith initiate suo motu enquiries regarding compliance and then make recommendation to the appropriate authority (of the concerned State/Union Territory), as may be necessary, so that the authority will be obliged to submit compliance report to the State Commissioner within three months from the date of receipt of recommendation, as mandated under Section 81 of the 2016 Act.
The respective State Commissioners may then submit report in respect of compliances/non-compliances within their concerned State/Union Territory to the Court by end of February, 2022, so that further directions, as may be necessary, can be issued by this Court State/Union Territory wise.
[Rajneesh Kumar Pandey v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1005, decided on 28.10.2021]
*Judgment by: Justice AM Khanwilkar