Gujarat High Court: In a batch of civil petitions filed by petitioners/ parents of children below the age of six years as on 01-06-2023, challenging the Notification dated 31-01-2020, whereby age limit of six years as on 1st June of the academic year 2023-24 was prescribed for admission of a child in 1st standard, the Division Bench of Sunita Agarwal, CJ. and N.V. Anjaria, J. dismissed the petition. The Court also held that forcing children to go to a pre-school below the age of three years is an illegal act on the part of the parents.
A notification dated 31-01-2023, amended Rules 3(1) of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules, 2012 (‘RTE Rules’). By the said amendment, elementary Schools in the State of Gujarat were prohibited from taking admission of children in 1st standard who had not completed sixth year of age on the first day of the academic year, i.e., 1st June. By another Notification dated 04-08-2020, Joint Secretary, Education Department directed for implementation of the amendments brought by the Notification dated 31-01-2020.
The parents’ case was that their children who are not above six years of age presently, had taken admission in elementary schools in Academic Session 2020-21 and had completed their elementary education and thus, were entitled to seek admission in 1st standard in the Academic Session 2023-24. The Notifications were challenged on the grounds of being unjust, improper, illegal and unconstitutional.
The Court noted that no challenge was raised to the requirement of completion of sixth year of age for admission to 1st standard, instead the challenge was to fixation of cut-off date as 01-06-2023, on the premise that approximately 9 lakhs children in the State would be deprived of their right to education in the current academic session.
Perusing the definition of ‘child’ in Section 2(c) of the Right to Education Act, 2009 (‘RTE Act’), the Court noted that a male or female child of the age of six years is eligible to admission in a neighbourhood school to exercise his right to free and compulsory education till the completion of his/her elementary education. The Court said that the right conferred upon a child by Article 21-A and Section 3 of the RTE Act, 2009 begins after completion of age of six years. Hence, the Court said that extension of time in admission to ensure that no child of six plus years of age is denied admission in a school is also to be read and understood in that context.
Further on perusing Sections 2(c), 3, 4, 14 and 15 of the RTE Act, 2009, the Court said that a child above the age of six years cannot be denied admission in a formal school and the State is mandated to take all the necessary measures to ensure that such a child who falls within the definition of ‘child’ under the RTE Act, 2009, completes his or her elementary education without any rider. Regarding the age of education below the age of six years, the Court said that the National Education Policy, 2020 (‘NEP’) regarded it as the age of ‘early childhood care and education’. The Bench noted that the NEP has studies that over 85 percent of a child’s cumulative brain development occurs prior to the age of six, indicating the critical importance of appropriate care and stimulation of the brain in the early years in order to ensure healthy brain development and growth.
It was also noted that quality of early childhood care and education is not available to crores of young children, particularly children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The Bench said that strong investment in early childhood care and education has the potential to give all young children such access, enabling them to participate and flourish in the educational system throughout their lives. Therefore, it was resolved in the NEP that universal provisioning of quality early childhood development, care, and education must, thus, be achieved as soon as possible, and no later than 2030, to ensure that all students entering Grade 1 are school ready.
On perusal of Rule 8 of the RTE Rules, the Court noted that there is a prohibition for admission of a child in a pre-school who has not completed three years of age as on 1st June of the academic year. The Court said that ‘early childhood care and education’ in a pre-school prepares a child to take admission in 1st standard in a formal school. The Court noted that the parents who were before the Court had admitted their children in a pre-school before completion of age of three years, which is the prescribed minimum age for admission in a pre-school in the RTE Rules, which were enforced in the State of Gujarat w.e.f. 18-02-2012. Therefore, the Court said that the parents’ whose children, who had not attained the age of six years as on 1st June of the year 2023, cannot seek any leniency or relaxation in the age, as they were guilty of violation of the mandate of RTE Rules, which is in line with the RTE Act, 2009. Thus, the Court held that forcing children to go to a pre-school below the age of three years is an illegal act on the part of the parents.
The Court also said that the cut-off date for completion of six years of age for admission in 1st standard has a rationale, and it was prescribed to achieve the object of RTE Act, 2009, which is to provide education to children at an appropriate age and the NEP, 2020, had clearly provided that children under the age of six years are not ready for school as it is the age of ‘early childhood care and development’.
Thus, the Court dismissed the petitions on the grounds of being devoid of merits.
[Shubhra Hiteshbhai Gupta v. State of Gujarat, 2023 SCC OnLine Guj 2810, Decided on 11-08-2023]
*Judgment Authored by: Chief Justice Sunita Agarwal
Advocates who appeared in this case :
For the petitioners: Advocate Ashish M Dagli, Advocate Nayan L Gupta, Advocate Hitesh Gupta, Advocate Dilipkumar Prajapati, Advocate Amit Chaudhary, Advocate Samir Gohel
For the respondents: Advocate General Kamal Trivedi, AGP KM Antani, Advocate Ankeeta Rajput
*Deeksha Dabas reported this Brief