Case BriefsHigh Courts

Rajasthan High Court: Dinesh Mehta J. allowed the petition and decided that the school will be converted to English medium subject to the decision taken by SDMC by majority of its members.

Background

The facts of the case are such that a school named Shri Hari Singh Sr. Sec. School, Pilwa has been functioning in village Pilwa since 1980. The school has been catering to the educational needs of about 600 children from all sects including girls residing in such village and nearby villages. The medium of instruction in the school is ‘Hindi’ since its inception. The petitioner 1 is the School Development Management Committee i.e. ‘SDMC’ represented by one of its members while petitioners 2 and 3 are parent-members of the SDMC. The SDMC is a statutory body constituted under section 21 of Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 i.e. RTE Act’. The petitioners in the instant case feel aggrieved of the decision dated 13-09-2021 taken by the State Government and consequential decision/order dated 20-09-2021 of the respondent No.2 by which ‘the school’ has been converted to an English Medium School – Mahatma Gandhi Government School (English Medium).

Observations

(i) Whether Article 21A of the Constitution of India which guarantees a right to education, also guarantees right to receive education in mother tongue or home language?

The Court observed that from perusal of Article 21A of the Constitution of India reveals that it enjoins upon the State to provide free and compulsory education to all children between the age of 6 to 14 years, but then, such right is not an absolute right, as its expanse has been hedged by the expression “in such manner as the State may, by law determine”. Since, Article 21A of the Constitution is tethered with the words “in such manner, as the State, may, by law determine”, according to this Court the State may by law provide the medium and manner to provide such free education, which in a given case can be Hindi, English or even regional dialect – the mother tongue of the child. No child or parent can claim it as a matter of right, which he/his ward should be instructed in a particular language or the mother tongue only, on the basis of what has been guaranteed under Article 21A of the Constitution.

(ii) Whether right to get education in mother tongue or Hindi is a fundamental right?

 The Court observed that fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) is only subject to reasonable restriction by law to be enacted, by the State, in the opinion of this Court, the instant decision taken or the State’s policy decision, cannot whittle down the fundamental right of a child to be taught in a particular medium, which is assured rather protected by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.

(iii) Whether the State’s policy decision of converting the school in question to Mahatma Gandhi English Medium School is in conflict with the provisions of section 20, 21, 22 and 29(2)(f) of the Act of 2009?

The State of Rajasthan promulgated Rajasthan Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules, 2011 wherein section 21 and 22 of the Act of 2009 and Rule 4 & 5 of the Rules of 2011, lays down that School Management Committee is required to prepare a school development plan which shall contain details of class-wise enrollments each year, requirement of number of additional teachers, requirement of additional infrastructure etc. Thus, by reading the provisions of the Act of 2009 and Rules of 2011, the Court is unable to conclude that prescription of medium of instruction is a decision to be taken by the School Management Committee, as a part of school development plan. Preparing a school development plan cannot be misconstrued to mean the prescription of syllabus and medium of instructions. It has to be done by the experts in the field of education/child education.

(iv) Whether the consent of School Development Management Committee (SDMC) is necessary before converting a Hindi medium school to an English medium school?

The Court observed that the functions to be discharged by the School Development Management Committee under clause (a) and (b) of section 21 (2) of the Act of 2009 do not include the decision to be taken with respect to language or medium in which the students of the school shall be taught. The medium of instruction is to be determined by the Appropriate Authority or Rajasthan School Education Council.

The Court observed that Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India is the fountain head, being repository of the right to freedom of speech and expression from where flows such right. Article 19(1)(a) has wide ambit and it includes within its fold, right to have education in a particular medium. The right of having elementary education in mother tongue is also a statutory right conferred by section 29 (2)(f) of the Act of 2009, according to which medium of instruction, as far as practicable, is required to be in child’s mother tongue.

The power to frame laws in the subject of education falls in the Entry No.25 of concurrent list of the VII Schedule. And since the Act of 2009 occupies the field which unequivocally prescribes that medium of instructions in elementary education as far as practicable, be in mother tongue/home language of the child, any law made or framed by the State but for the assent of the President would be repugnant by virtue of Article 254 of the Constitution.

The Court opined, English, as a medium of instruction cannot be thrusted upon a child even by a legislation enacted by the State Government, much less by a policy decision.

Be that as it may. Since the petitioner No.1 – SDMC of which petitioner No.2 & 3 are members, has itself decided to have a school of English medium, impugned decision of the State at the instance of the present petitioners cannot be quashed, more particularly, because the decision of the State or its policy as such are not under challenge.

The Court observed that the rights of the petitioners and the pupil of the school to have instructions in Hindi that are protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India and such rights can be diluted only by way of a legislation enacted in the contingencies mentioned in cause (2) of Article 19. In absence of any valid legislation brought by the State of Rajasthan, this Court is of the view that such right cannot be abrogated or taken away. The impugned decision dated 20.09.2021 seeking to convert the school in question to a Hindi medium school with immediate effect (session 2021-22) is fortiori, violative of Article 19(1)(a) and 14 of the Constitution of India.

Indisputably, the School Development Management Committee is a statutory body, constituted under the provisions of section 21 of the Act of 2009 and Rule 3 of the Rules of 2011. Section 21(2) and 22 of the Act of 2009 enjoins upon the committee to monitor the working of the school and prepare/recommend school development plan. In the opinion of this Court, the State’s administrative decision and action of forcing English as a mode or medium of instruction is violative of section 21 and 22 of the Act of 2009, particularly, in the face of resolutions adopted by the SDMC.

The Court keeping in mind the facts, policy decision and laws/rules directed that “in case, for the ensuing session i.e., 2022-23, the State wishes or proposes to convert the school in question to Mahatma Gandhi English Medium School, it shall convene a meeting of the School Development Management Committee constituted under Rule 3 of the Rules of 2011 in presence of the Sub Divisional Magistrate/Tehsildar and a nominee of District Education Officer concerned. Notice of the meeting with the proposed agenda will be circulated well in advance. If the School Development Management Committee by majority of the members present, resolves that the school in question be converted to an English medium school, then only, the State’s decision to convert the school in question to a Mahatma Gandhi English Medium School shall be given effect to. Else, the school will not be converted to an English medium school.”[School Management Development Committee v. State of Rajasthan, 2022 SCC OnLine Raj 38, decided on 04-01-2022]


Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.


Appearances:

For petitioner: Mr. Moti Singh

For respondent: Mr. Pankaj Sharma, Mr. Rishi Soni and Mr. Deepak Chandak

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Rajasthan High Court: A Division bench of Manindra Mohan Shrivastava and Farjand Ali granted interim relief against State’s directions to prohibit admission to pre-school classes under RTE Act.

The instant petition in the nature of PIL was filed challenging the policy of the State insofar as direction has been issued by the State Authorities that admission to pre-school classes in educational Session 2020- 21 shall not be governed by The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009.

Counsel for the petitioners submitted that the State’s directions to prohibit admission to pre-classes under RTE Act is contrary to the statutory scheme of Section 12 of the RTE Act and the State has illegally absolved the private schools from complying with the statutory obligation enjoined under Section 12(1) (c), in relation to pre-educational classes, in ignorance of scheme under Proviso to that provision.

Counsel for the State would submit that the applicability of the provisions to pre-school would essentially depend upon proper reimbursement to be made to the State by the Central Government under the scheme of Section 7 of the Act and, therefore, unless such scheme is properly worked out and implemented, no direction could be sought in the garb of PIL by the petitioners.

The Court observed that proviso to Subsection (1) of Section 12 provides that where a school specified in Clause (n) of Section 2 imparts pre-school education, the provisions of Clauses (a) to (c) shall apply for admission to such pre-school education. Thus, Proviso creates an obligation on the schools specified in Sub-clauses (iii) and (iv) of Clause (n) of Section 2 to admit, to the extent of at least twenty five percent of the class, Children belonging to weaker section and disadvantaged group.

The Court thus held “the direction of the State shall not come in the way of performance of statutory obligation by the schools specified in Sub-clauses (iii) and (iv) of Clause (n) of Section 2 of the RTE Act and Proviso as referred to above shall oblige them to make admission under the RTE Act. Such admission, however, would be provisional in nature and to be governed by the final order that may be passed by this Court in the writ petitions”

[Smile for All Society v. Elementary Education Rajasthan, 2021 SCC OnLine Raj 1592, decided on 23-10-2021]


Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.


For Petitioner(s): Mr Vikas Jakhar and Mr Abhinav Sharma
For Respondent(s): Mr Chiranji Lal Saini and Mr Akshay Bhardwaj

Case BriefsCOVID 19High Courts

“Education is the passport to the future.”

Delhi High Court: A Division Bench of Manmohan and Sanjeev Narula, JJ., while addressing the issue with regard to digital education observed that

“…tuition fee was payable towards imparting education and “not for a lien on a seat”

Schools imparting Synchronous Face-to-face Real-Time Online Education, not as a voluntary service but as a part of their responsibility under the RTE Act, 2009.

DIGITAL DIVIDE

Inequality in education has been around long before Covid-19, but the pandemic has exacerbated the same by adding another strand/element to it, namely, the digital divide.

Reopening of physical classroom

Unparalleled education disruption from the Covid-19 pandemic is far from over, as, despite lapse of nearly six months, the Union of India and the Government of NCT of Delhi are yet to announce a date for reopening of the physical classroom for elementary schools.

Concern in the present petition

The instant Public Interest Litigation was filed seeking a direction to respondents to supply free laptops/android mobile phones/electronic tablets with high-speed internet to children belonging to the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) so that they could attend their classes by way of video conferencing just like fee-paying students in their classes.

During the pendency of the present petition, some other schools also started online classes, the petitioner sought modification in the prayer clause to include children studying in these schools, so that comprehensive orders could be passed under Article 21A of the Constitution of India for all the children other than fee-paying students.

Analysis and Decision

Article 21A of the Constitution imposes an enforceable/justiciable obligation upon the State to provide free and compulsory elementary education to each and every child between the age of six and fourteen in a manner as determined by law.

In pursuance of the above stated constitutional obligation, the Centre enacted the RTE Act, 2009.

Court cited the Supreme Court decision in Ashoka Kumar Thakur v. Union of India, (2008) 6 SCC 1, wherein it was held that,

Universal elementary education as a constitutional goal and obligation is a salutary principle and while interpreting the provisions of the RTE Act, 2009, Article 21A has to be the guiding principle.

Supreme Court in Jindal Stainless Ltd. v. State of Haryana, (2017) 12 SCC 1 held that,

“…the Constitution being a living and dynamic document ought to receive a dynamic and pragmatic interpretation that harmonizes and balances competing aims and objectives and promotes attainment of natural goods and objections.”

RTE Act, 2009 is not a historical Act but an ‘always speaking statute’ which intends to achieve social, economic and political equity and human progress over a period of time.

Court observed that,

RTE Act, 2009 is not a static but a living and a dynamic document and it ought to receive a pragmatic interpretation.

Consistent with the legislative intent, an updating construction has to be applied to RTE Act, 2009 and the Court of law can deal with a drastically changed situation, like Covid-19 pandemic, even if it was not known or visualized by Parliament when the Act was enacted.

Adding to its’ analysis, Court stated that the new National Education Policy, 2020 prepared by the Government of India states that education is fundamental for achieving full human potential, developing an equitable and just society, and promoting national development.

Why the RTE Act, 2009 does not define the word ‘Education’?

Bench in the present matter was of the view that the RTE Act, 2009 intentionally does not define the word Education as it needs to deal with changes in society as well as technological advances, outbreak of diseases, natural calamities and a broad range of circumstances that are not possible to anticipate in advance.

Concept of synchronous face-to-face real-time online education

The concept of Synchronous Face-to-Face Real Time Online Education like any other alternate means/methods of dissemination of education, in that sense, is covered under the RTE Act, 2009.

The teaching through online means is in accordance with the RTE Act, 2009 requirements.

Adding to the above, the Court stated that at the present, the neighborhood schools are still open but the physical classrooms are closed and the mode of providing education has changed.

Court is of the view that tuition fees are payable towards imparting education and not for a lien on a seat. Accordingly, the word Education includes Synchronous Face-to-Face Real Time Online Education and respondent schools are estopped from contending to the contrary.

Differential Fee Structure

Section 12(2) of the RTE Act, 2009 unequivocally proves the existence of a differential fee structure amongst private unaided schools and consequently, differential methods/means of dissemination of instructions amongst the private schools.

Further, the Court added that just as private schools are free to adopt the mode of the method of imparting education they feel the most appropriate, the government schools also have similar freedom and flexibility.

There is neither any statutory obligation under the RTE Act, 2009 nor any recommendation by any statutory authority like State Academic Authority that the Synchronous Face-to-Face Real Time Online Education is the only suitable option during a pandemic.

High Court also opined that in view of the geographical location of a school or non-availability of technologically savvy teachers or poor availability of electricity or lack of internet penetration in the neighbourhood, it may also not be appropriate for a school to opt for Synchronous Face-to-Face Real Time Online Education.

There has to be one common minimum level/standard of impartation of education for all schools. Further, the said school has to then ensure that the same is uniformly adopted and followed sans any discrimination.

Bench opined that

Synchronous Face-to- Face Real Time Online Education is neither a core nor a non-derogable facet of either Article 21A of the Constitution or the RTE Act, 2009.

High Court was of the view that it cannot be said that the education being provided by GNCTD schools does not satisfy the basic minimum required level of impartation of education in the present extraordinary scenario.

Private Unaided Schools

The tuition fee charged by the private unaided schools is governed and regulated by the DSE Act and the same does not include expenses on devices such as laptops, phones, high-speed internet at children‟s homes, etc.

Even though the cost of such gadget/digital equipment which enables access to online learning facilities is not a part of tuition fee, yet it has to be provided free of cost to the EWS / DG students in terms of Section 12(1)(c) read with Section 3(2) of the Act, 2009 as cost of such equipment would be covered under Rule 11 of the Central RTE Rules, 2010 as well as Rule 10 of the Delhi RTE Rules, 2011 and Section 3(2) of the RTE Act, 2009 inasmuch as absence of such equipment ‘will prevent the child from pursuing his or her elementary education‘ at par with other students in the same class in the present scenario.

DIGITAL DIVIDE

To ensure a level playing field and to remedy this digital divide or digital gap or ̳digital apartheid‟ in addition to segregation, if the private unaided school has to bear any additional cost, it must bear it in the first instance with a right to claim reimbursement from the State in accordance with Section 12(2) of the RTE Act, 2009.

GNCTD must consider rewarding the schools that innovate.

Intra-class discrimination, especially inter-se 75% fee paying students viz-a-viz 25% EWS/DG students‟ upsets the ̳level playing field‘ and amounts to discrimination as well as creates a vertical division, digital divide or digital gap or „digital apartheid‘ in addition to segregation in a classroom which is violative of RTE Act, 2009 and Articles 14, 20 and 21 of the Constitution.

High Court directs constitution of a three-member committee within a week comprising Secretary, Education, Ministry of Education, Central Government or his nominee, Secretary Education, GNCTD or his nominee and a representative of respondent No.18 to frame a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for identification of standard gadget(s)/equipment(s) as well as the manufacturer/supplier and internet package so that EWS/DG students can access elementary education through digital online means.

Further, the private unaided schools shall file their claims for reimbursement under Section 12(2) to the GNCTD within eight weeks from the date of supply of such gadget(s)/equipment(s).

“To achieve education for all, Digital Education is a major component of the solution, though not a replacement for formal classroom schooling, provided digital- divide is erased from Indian Society.”

Creating a better and resilient elementary education system is increasingly important as a child’s starting point in life determines his/her future.

Concurring with the above view, Sanjeev Narula, J. stated that,

In the present pandemic situation, the shift towards online education has taken place literally overnight, and without much deliberation. One could argue that the unprecedented situation warranted such a drastic switch over. Therefore, I do not find any fault with the approach of the schools that have adopted digital technology for imparting education. However, it is necessary to issue a note of caution here so that the modes and methods adapted during this extraordinary time are not seen as the quintessential purpose of the Act.

The scheme of Article 21A and the RTE Act rests on a twofold premise: to prevent financial and psychological barriers from hindering access to primary education of children, and, non-discrimination in the imparting of education.

Reservation for EWS
Children of the socially and economically weaker sections are normally unable to secure an admission in private schools due to their unaffordable fees. The RTE Act seeks to address this gap via section 12(1)(c) which mandates all private schools to reserve 25 per cent of their seats for children belonging to economically weaker sections and disadvantaged group.

DIGITAL ENABLEMENT

Imbalance in the imparting of education due to the non- availability of gadgets, internet connectivity and modes of access, has the potential of pushing the less-fortunate children outside the education system altogether. The digital enablement of EWS students, is thus, in my opinion, absolutely necessary.

The precious right guaranteed by the Constitution of India and the RTE Act has to be replicated in the online environment.

It is the responsibility of the schools and obligation of the State to assist EWS students to overcome all constraints that deprive them of meaningful education.

[Justice for All v. GNCTD, 2020 SCC OnLine Del 1217, decided on 18-09-2020]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Y.K. Sinha (Information Commissioner) addressed an RTI application filed seeking the following information:

  1. Names of students of Class 8th and 12th students who were given admission under EWS Quota for the session 2017-18. Provide information in detail.
  2. Names of Class 12th students who fall under EWS Quota in the final year.
  3. Provide the names of parents/Guardians of Class 8th and 12th students who were given admission under EWS Quota in the year 2017-18.
  4. Provide copies income certificates submitted by Class 8th and 12th students who were enrolled under EWS Quota in the year 2017-18?

Applicant on being dissatisfied with the response and aggrieved with the same approached the Commission with the instant second appeal.

Respondents stated that data about online registration of students is available since the year 2018-19, while the appellant seeks information pertaining to the academic year 2017- 18, hence the information could not be readily provided.

He further explained that before the implementation of the Right to Education Act, admissions to students from economically weaker sections were given under the freeship quota. The registration of students under EWS quota is not done at the stage of class 8 or 12, hence data sought by the appellant is not readily available.

Hence, in view of the above, the information sought by the appellant could not be readily provided.

Decision

Commission noted that the reply of the respondent that information about admissions under EWS[Economically Weaker Section] quota is not available in their office is totally unacceptable.

The respondent being the regulatory authority of all educational institutions cannot remain oblivious nor avoid questions relating to such crucial information which involves the implementation of the Right to Education Act.

Further, the commission added that information about names and particulars of students is personal information held by the school in a fiduciary capacity disclosure of which would invade the privacy of the concerned children.

RTE Act makes education a fundamental right of every child between the ages of 6 and 14 and specifies minimum norms in elementary schools, requiring all private schools(except the minority institutions) to reserve 25% of seats for children belonging to the economically weaker section of society.

Respondent was directed to provide information about the total number of students, if any, admitted under EWS quota in Class 8 and Class 12 for the academic year 2017-18.

Appeal was disposed of in the above terms.[Anita Chaudhary v. PIO, DDE-ZONE II, Dte, of Education, 2020 SCC OnLine CIC 731, decided on 09-06-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Kerala High Court: While allowing the instant petition seeking for issuance of a writ of mandamus directing the State Government to take all necessary steps to establish a Government Lower Primary School at Elambra village in Manjeri Municipality, expeditiously; the Division Bench of S. Manikumar, CJ, and Shaji P. Chaly, J., directed the State Government to sanction the establishment of Government LP School, at Elambra within a period of three months. The Bench strictly observed that the people of Elambra have been fighting a long battle of 35 years with the might of the State Government in order to establish a lower primary school- a demand that is completely in consonance with the law and the Constitution and there is a conspicuous failure on the part of the State Government in acknowledging this demand.

The petitioner, a resident of Elambra, filed the instant PIL. As per the facts, the village is located on the outskirts of Manjeri Municipality and is a socially and educationally backward area. There are no primary schools within the radius of 3 km and during the last 30 years, the local residents have been making continuous effort to get a new Government LP School at Elambra. Several representations were submitted before the concerned authorities concerned, including the Minister of Education, all of which yielded no result. The petitioner further submitted that the concerned authorities have conducted several inspections and had submitted their reports, which were ignored by the Government. P. Venugopal representing the petitioners argued that the Government failed to discharge the duties cast upon them under Section 19 of the Kerala Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules, 2011 r/w Section 3(3) of the Kerala Education Act, 1958. The petitioner also presented Reports prepared by Manjeri Dy. District Education Officer and Malappuram District Educational Officer; Order issued by Kerala State Human Rights Commission and Kerala State Child Rights Protection Commission (hereinafter Commissions); all of which were clear on the point that Elambra is a remote area with the closest primary schools situated 5 km away and the Government is constitutionally and statutorily obligated to take concrete steps for providing basic educational infrastructure. The respondents were represented by Surin George Ipe.

The Court perused the facts; contentions; the Reports and relevant Supreme Court cases highlighting the Right to Education as a fundamental right. The Bench taking into account international conventions such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Convention on the Rights of the Child observed that, Right to Education is not only a fundamental right but it is also a Human Right. The Court delved in-depth on the evolution of a child’s right to education and the obligations of the State in relation to it. Taking into consideration statutes such as the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, Commissions for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005, Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules, 2010 and the concerned State legislations, the Court noted that that the people of Elambra have been demanding establishment of a Government Lower Primary School, whereas the State Government, without considering the reports of local educational authorities, by erroneously applying the Rules and not following the relevant statutory provisions particularly Section 3(3) of Kerala Education Act, 1958, Section 3 of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 and Rule 6 of the Kerala Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules, 2011, have denied sanction for establishment of a Government LP School in Elambra. The Court concurred with the reports presented by the local educational authorities which have clearly recorded that the area in question is educationally backward with no proper transport facility. There are Upper Primary and High schools in and around the locality within a distance of 2-5 kms. There is no Government LP school within the radius of 3 kms and people are depending upon schools, which are not within the neighbourhood of Elambra. The Court also noted that since the respondents did not challenge the Orders issued by the Commissions, therefore they cannot argue that such Orders are not binding on them. [T. Muhammed Faisi v. State of Kerala, 2020 SCC OnLine Ker 2981, decided on 29-07-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Uttaranchal High Court: The Division Bench comprising of Lok Pal Singh and Rajiv Sharma JJ., laid down a series of directions by disposing of the petition focusing on the needs of children with disabilities and stating that:

“Children with special needs should have equal opportunities”.

The petitioner had placed the list of children with special needs in the State of Uttarakhand in tabular form for which the Respondent filed the counter affidavit stating the steps taken to promote the special children’s education. The point of concern in this matter was that, the Respondents even after taking several steps were unable to take the steps in letter and spirit of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 along with the rules framed by the State of Uttarakhand, the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995.

Therefore, the High Court on observing the inadequate step been taken by the respondents issued mandatory directions in light of giving access to free education in an appropriate environment to every child with disability also stressing upon the endeavor to be made to promote the integration of a child with disabilities in the normal schools. The following directives were issued:

  • Special Educators to be appointed in both Government aided and unaided private schools in State of Uttarakhand.
  • Schools to make premises barrier-free and suitable for free movement of children with special needs.
  • Special teacher’s training institutions in accordance with Section 29 of Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995.
  • Sufficient funds to be released in order to impart education in ordinary schools or special schools.
  • Construction of a sufficient number of hostels.
  • All the necessities required including the books, uniforms, etc. To be provided to the children before the start of the academic session.
  • Scholarship of Rs 1,000/- per month each to be provided to children with special needs.
  • Curriculum to be prepared focusing on the difficulties that they face.
  • Amanuensis to be provided to the blind students in all the educational institutions throughout the State of Uttarakhand. [Kamal Gupta v. State of Uttarakhand,2018 SCC OnLine Utt 677, dated 11-07-2018]