The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the constitutional validity of the Right to Education Act, 2009, which mandates 25% free seats to poor children up to the age of 14 in government and private aided and unaided schools (but not in unaided minority institutions) uniformly across the country.
A child who is denied the right to access education is not only [being] deprived of his right to live with dignity, he is also [being] deprived of his right to freedom of speech and expression enshrined in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution,” the court said.
By a majority view, a three-judge bench of Chief Justice SH Kapadia and Justice KS Radhakrishnan and Justice Swantanter Kumar said the act will apply uniformly to government and unaided private schools except unaided private minority schools.
“The 2009 Act seeks to remove all those barriers, including financial and psychological barriers, which a child belonging to the weaker section and disadvantaged group has to face while seeking admission,” read the judgment.
Holding that the judgment would be effective from Thursday, the court said it would not apply to admissions granted after the enactment of the legislation. In other words, the judgment would have only a prospective and not retrospective affect. Admissions granted in unaided minority schools prior to this judgment “shall not be reopened”.
The law will be binding on all unaided non-minority schools that are not receiving “any kind of aid or grants to meet their expenses from the government or the local authority”.
The court also rejected the contentions of unaided non-minority schools that teaching children under the Act would result in additional burden for them.
According to an uncontested report, at least 17 million children in India work invariably putting in 21 hours of labour a week. The top court has also asked the Union government to clarify if the Act applies only to day schools or boarding schools as well.
Welcoming the verdict, Union minister Kapil Sibal said policies under the Act “should be child centric and not institution centric”.
“Big schools can surely take this burden,” he said. “What the court has given us today is clarity on the issue so that all controversies are put to rest.”