In an order having far-reaching consequences, the Karnataka High Court has held that all students aged between six and 14 in private schools are eligible for free education and not just those from poor families gaining admission under a 25 per cent quota fixed by the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act.

In an interim order on a batch of petitions on Tuesday, Justice Huluvadi G. Ramesh said Article 21A of the Constitution guaranteed free and compulsory education to all children in that age group.

The State government should reimburse the fees charged by private schools, he ruled. To arrive at a reasonable fee for reimbursement, , the Education Department should organise a seminar with the stakeholders on March 10.

“It is for the State and Central governments to work out the fee that has to be paid by children in the age group 6-14 and to see that proper arrangements are made to indemnify the institutions concerned on behalf of the children,” the judge said.

While some petitions claimed free education under Article 21A, others complained about the demand made by private schools for a fee in excess of the amount prescribed under the Karnataka Education Act. Private institutions had filed petitions questioning certain provisions in the Right to Education Act and the rules.

As for admissions made in 2012-13, the court directed the private institutions not to prevent students who are agitating over the fee structure from attending classes or tests. They should approach the State government seeking reimbursement of the fee to be paid by these students.

The court asked the Education Department to discuss at the seminar what would be the reasonable fees with representatives of private institutions, associations of teachers and parents, the Indian Council of Secondary Education and the Central Board of Secondary Education. The authorities should discuss the complaints of teachers that unaided and minority institutions were not paying pay scales fixed.

Based on the outcome of the deliberations, Justice Ramesh said, the Union and the State governments can take policy decisions on reimbursement of fee and earmark funds. The Court adjourned the hearing till April 16 and directed the two governments to submit a report based on the outcome of the seminar.