Thursday, 21 September 2017

To deny Children Admission on technical grounds is against the Spirit of the RTE Act!

The founder-manager of City Montessori School in Lucknow, Jagdish Gandhi, has recently published full page advertisements in local edition all national dailies claiming that even though he would like to admit children under section 12(1)(c) of the Right to Education Act, 2009, the children whose admissions were ordered by the District Magistrate and the Basic Shiksha Adhikari in his school did not fulfill one or more criteria required for such admissions. The children either live more than a kilometer away, the definition of ‘neighbourhood’ stated by Uttar Pradesh government and a necessary criterion to be fulfilled by children seeking admission under the above mentioned section of the Act, or were less than 6 years of age whereas the Act applies to children in the age group 6 to 14 years.

Right to Education Act 2009. Phot Courtsey Govt. of India

In an order delivered by Justice Saumitra Dayal Singh of the Allahabad High Court on 9 August, 2017 regarding the admission of child Chaitanya Dev to Nursery class in Maharishi Patanjali Vidya Mandir of Allahabad, in the matter of Sudhir Kumar, father of Chaitanya, vs. State of U.P. and others, said that for schools which run Kindergarten, Preparatory or Nursery classes the provisions of the Act apply even if the age of child is less than 6 years. The school claimed that the child did not live in the neighbourhood. On this the Judge reprimanded the school saying that since it had not admitted even one child against the 202 seats which were supposed to be reserved for children from disadvantaged groups and weaker sections, which is 25% of the strength of entry level classes in this school as prescribed by the Act, the criterion of neighbourhood was irrelevant. Only if the school had admitted 25% children under the above-mentioned categories the question of the neighborhood could have been examined. The Judge took the school to task saying that since the school had wasted one full year of the child, it was now its responsibility to educate the child till class XII instead of the stipulated class VIII. The government will compensate the education of the child from classes I to VIII at the rate of Rs. 450 per month but the school will have to take care of the expenses on Chaitanya’s education from classes IX to XII on its own. He added that if any of the buses run by the school to carry its children go in the direction of Chaitanya’s house then the school will have to provide free bus service to him for the duration of his study in the school.

Right to Education. Picture Courtesy Govt. of India

It is hoped that after such a clear cut and strict order by the HC the schools which have been playing truant in the admission of children under the Act will now stop resisting the entry of children from disadvantaged groups and weaker sections into their precincts. The Judge said that denying admission to children under section 12(1)(c) of the RTE Act on technical grounds is against the spirit of the Act. The Act has been made to facilitate the admission of children who are denied education. If the private schools will put all their energies in blocking the admission of underprivileged children then the purpose of the Act would be defeated.
Jagdish Gandhi challenged the admission of 31 children in the academic year 2015-16 under the Act ordered by DM, Lucknow. The HC and then the Supreme Court ordered him to admit 13 out of these 31 children who lived in the neighborhood of one km. In 2016-17 Jagdish Gandhi again refused to admit 55 children, 14 of whom are still in court against him even after the entire academic year is over. Imitating CMS, several other schools like Navyug Radiance, owned by Bhartiya 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 did not admit a total of 105 children in 2016-17.
In the current academic year 2017-18, 296 admissions have been ordered by the local administration and of the 167 children who have approached CMS, all of them have been declared undeserving by it. According to the school 117 of them live outside the limit of one km, 135 are below 6 years of age, 89 are already enrolled in other schools and 38 don’t qualify to be in economically weaker section category. Some of the children fail on more than one criterion. The number of schools which are defiant about not admitting children under the Act is going up every year as a result of CMS’s stance. It is entirely, because of CMS that admissions to schools under section 12(1)(c) have become such an uphill task.
If Jagdish Gandhi is rightly claiming that all admissions ordered by the office of BSA are faulty then action must be taken against the BSA. However, if the BSA is correct then administration or the government must take action against the truant schools.
An important question which arises is whether Jagdish Gandhi has a right to examine the criteria required for admission for each of the children who are admitted to his school. If in this manner, every nongovernmental person started examining the correctness of government’s decision then the entire work of government can come to standstill. For example, if the fair price shop owner took a stand that s(he) would first examine the genuineness of the ration cards owners before distributing the food grains as part of Public Distribution System, then the whole scheme would be hampered.
In the same advertisement published by Jagdish Gandhi in which he has given reasons for not admitting children under the RTE Act, he has also claimed in one corner that he and his wife Bharti Gandhi do not own any private property, jewelry or have large bank balances. The question which must be asked is where is Jagdish Gandhi getting the funds from for publishing expensive advertisements and hiring costly lawyers like Shanti Bhushan and Abhishek Manu Singhvi? Is it from the fees that he charges from the parents of children who study in 20 branches of CMS? Does he have a right to waste the hard earned money of parents on contesting the admissions of underprivileged children in his school?

Sandeep Pandey is an Indian social activist. Magsaysay Award recipient, Gandhian and PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. He is also a co-founder of Asha for Education. He is a Former Professor, Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar.

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