The Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday, which exempted all minority educational institutions in the country from setting aside 25% seats in the entry-level classes as mandated under RTE Act, has open the Pandora's box.
For an institution, obtaining the minority tag is an easy process. One can get it from the state minority department in flat 40 days by paying just Rs 5,000 as fee. The certificate is a permanent affair and is revoked only in extremely rare cases.
The trusts are expected to fulfil all the norms pertaining to religious and linguistic minorities—domicile, certificate of charity commissioner among others—before getting approval. However, there is nothing in the rule-book that says a certain number of minority students should be given admission. It means, they can enjoy the status even if they don't admit a single minority student.
The tag gives these schools a lot of functional freedom, including exemption from reservation in hiring teaching and non-teaching staff. And now the SC has exempted them from the 25% RTE quota.
Not surprising then that more and more educational trusts are seeking minority status. Over 2,200 educational trusts in Maharashtra have got minority status to date. This includes religious minorities like Muslims, Christians and Parsis, and linguistic minority groups like Gujarati, Hindi, Sindhi, Punjabi, Tamil, Malayalam, etc. Some trusts have both linguistic and religious minority status.
The rush to seek minority status touched a new high in 2012-13 when the RTE Act was functionally rolled out in the state. The department was forced to introduce a portal for speeding up the process.
"The portal received over 879 applications in the past six months for which 706 are yet to be cleared," said a highly placed official. The department expects a fresh surge in applications post the SC verdict.
According to an estimated figure, these 2,200 trusts operate nearly 28,000 schools, both aided and unaided. This is nearly 77% of the 36,000 private schools in the state. Interestingly, neither the minority department nor the school education department has any data on the number of schools run by these trusts or the number of minority students enrolled in these schools. Following the SC ruling, the ministry has asked the officials to compute the figure.
"Though for aided minority institutions, which offer professional courses like engineering, polytechnic and management, admitting at least 50% students (51% for unaided) from their category is a must, for schools up to class 12, there is no fixed quota. However, it they don't admit even a single student for three years, the status can be revoked," said an official in the department, who admitted that to date not a single approval had been cancelled on account of this clause.
The department also lacks a system to verify whether the minorities under whose name a school gets the status, actually benefit from the school.
The RTE quota in the state is now left with the trusts run by Marathi managements. "In cities like Mumbai and Pune, the number of minority schools is much higher and could be nearly 90%. This means, very few seats would be left for the poor. This defeats the very purpose of the RTE Act."
FACTS AND FIGURES
Maharashtra: 2,258 trusts have been approved till March 2014; 706 applications pending.
Mumbai city: Applications received from June 2013 till date: 21 for religious minority; 24 linguistic minority; 7 for both.
Mumbai suburbs: Applications received from June 2013-April 2014: 8 for religious minority; 11 for linguistic minority; 4 for both.