The Supreme Court today upheld the constitutional validity of the Right to Education Act, which mandates that 25 per cent seats in all schools be reserved for the economically disadvantaged.
A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice R M Lodha said that the Act will not apply to aided or unaided minority institutions.
The bench, also comprising justices A K Patnaik, S J Mukhopadhaya, Dipak Misra and F M I Kalifulla, said Article 21 (A) does not alter the basis structure of the Constitution.
On August 23, 2013, a three-judge bench had referred the issue to a five-judge bench because it involved a vital constitutional question of law relating to the rights of unaided private educational institutions.
Before that in April, 2013, a two-judge bench of the apex court had referred the matter to the three-judge bench.
Federation of Public Schools, a conglomerate of over 350 private unaided schools, had contended that the law violates their right to run their schools without government interference.
The petition had contended that although a three-judge bench had in 2012 upheld the validity of the law, this was erroneous because the court did not consider two earlier Constitution Bench rulings that the State cannot interfere in the affairs of private institutions.
The petitioner's counsel had said the earlier rulings had stated such interference would violate Articles 14, 15(1), 19(1)(g) and 21.
The right to education law was enacted by Parliament in 2009 by inserting Article 21A to provide free and compulsory education to children between 6 and 14 years.
The petitioner had submitted that the three-judge bench in 2012 had erroneously held Article 21A to be constitutionally valid for non-minority unaided educational institutions while holding it to be unconstitutional so far as minority-run educational institutions are concerned.
Article 21A being applied to private unaided schools abridges the "unfettered fundamental rights of such institutions to establish, run and administer their educational institutions, which includes the right to admit the students of their own choice," the counsel had argued.
"The provisions of the RTE Act....at least insofar as it obligates private unaided schools to admit at least 25 per cent students from economically weaker and disadvantaged sections, are unconstitutional and are liable to be declared void," the petition had said.