When it comes to seeking admission in a school for those from economically weaker sections of the society there is no unanimity. While many schools will be under compulsion to admit students under the 25 per cent reservation as per RTE Act, some would seek to bypass the requirement by claiming they are “unaided minority school”.
The Supreme Court’s order requires private schools that are not classified as minority-run institutions to follow the 25 per cent reservation rule, irrespective of whether they receive grants from the government or not. Whereas unaided minority institutions, which do not enjoy any sops from the government, are free to take in students as they wish. Activists and private school heads have taken on this vehemently, but little can be done unless the Constitution is altered. The judgement says: “Reservation of 25 per cent in such unaided minority schools will result in changing the character of the schools if the right to establish and administer such schools flows from the right to conserve the language, script or culture, which right is conferred on such unaided minority schools.”
Explaining the SC order, G. Rajagopalan, senior advocate, Madras High Court, says: As per Article 29 and Article 30 of the Constitution, minority institutions have the right to establish institutions of their choice. “So, if you compel them to admit students, their right gets defeated,” he says.
Punjab Association Group of Schools is an unaided minority run institution. These schools were started at the time of Partition to cater to the Punjabi community. With the city mushrooming with many schools, today it does not have many Punjabi-speaking students. “But, preference is given to them and we in our own way admit students from the weaker sections of society or give them waiver in fee,” says Ramesh Lamba, general secretary, Punjab Association. Of the 14,000 students in the five schools that the association run, only 200 to 400 come from Punjabi families.
There are nearly 5,000 schools that are members of the Confederation of Tamilnadu Minority Schools (CTMS), which includes both linguistic and religious minority – both are being exempted from the 25 per cent reservation rule. Activists say that the order would mean rich educational institutions will get away without abiding by the rule and more growth of institutions under such a tag. “Do minority educational institutions cater to the need of the minorities to make them non-applicable to a rule that other private schools have to follow,” questions an educationist.
Father A. Stanley Sebastian, president CTMS and Superintendent of Roman Catholic Schools, Archdiocese of Mylapore, refutes such allegations. “Beginning of every academic year, the Archbishop sends instructions to all schools that poor children must be admitted and a minimum of 50 per cent concession be given to such children. Even before the government making any such rule, we have been doing this,” he says. There are 81 schools under the Madras Diocese comprising Chennai and Thiruvallur district. Of them 30 are aided schools.
The majority judgment by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justice Swatanter speaks of minority school’s right to conserve their language, script or culture. However, in schools under the Archdiocese of Mylapore, only 20 per cent of the current student-strength is Catholics.
While the exclusion of unaided minority institutions will dilute the RTE Act has become a matter of concern, much will depend on what these schools decide to do in the larger interest of students from all sections.
Keywords: RTE Act