The Congress government in 1986 enunciated the concept of a national system of education in its National Policy on Education in a bid to provide, up to a given level, education of a comparable quality to all students, irrespective of caste, creed, location or sex.
After 23 years, another Congress government seems to have buried this dream. In its place, it has paved the way for privatisation and commercialisation in the recently-passed Right to Education Bill.
It proposes introducing the voucher system of reimbursing money for private schools to educate poor children. This compromises the interests of children, in general, and children belonging to subaltern communities, in particular. I dont hesitate to call this a historical blunder of the so-called progressive government, which misled Parliament and missed a rare opportunity to create a National System of Education based on the core principles of equality and social justice.
Many wrongs in the Bill
The Bill negates the constitutional spirit of the Right to Education, thereby negating the education policies of 1968 (led by the Education Commission), 1986 (led by late former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi) and 1990 (Modified policy of 1986 led by Acharya Ramamurthy) to create a system of school education based on a Common School System.
The Bill is flawed for the following reasons. First, it excludes children below the age of six from the purview of the fundamental right to education, thereby denying the care, protection, early education and support for children provided under Articles 15(3), 39(e) and (f) and 45. Second, it negates the historic Supreme Court verdict in the Case of Unnikrishanan vs. State of Andhra Pradesh where the court declared that the right to education is a fundamental right of every child until the age of 14 years. Third, it contradicts the very fundamental notion of a Fundamental Right as the universal right of every citizen by confining the fundamental right only to State-run and State-aided institutions by keeping the private, unaided institutions and Central government schools outside the purview of the fundamental right. It not only excludes private institutions from the obligation of fulfilling the constitutional mandate but also permits them to function as institutions catering to a few elite in society, thereby perpetuating inequality by violating Article 14 of the Constitution.
Fourth, the Bill curtails the opportunity for public employment under Article 16 by not extending education up to Class 12 as a fundamental right, which is a bare minimum qualification for every citizen to enter even a least earning employment in the age of the so-called knowledge economy.
Finally, as a death blow, the Bill negates the very fundamental right of every citizen under Article 21 for the right to a dignified life.
Can it be set right?
In corollary, the Bill passed in the Lok Sabha on August 4, 2009 is ultra vires and unconstitutional for violating the basic structure of the Constitution, on the one hand, and the rights guaranteed and principles invoked in the Fundamental Rights and Directive Principle of state policy, on the other.
It is desirable at this point of time the honourable President of India, being a custodian of the Constitution, should return the Bill back to Parliament asking for the following:
First, she should ask that children below six years be included in the gamut of fundamental right to education. Secondly, the fundamental right of equitable quality education should be rooted through the the principle of genuine neighbourhood school. Three, a clearly defined schedule should be drawn to upgrade all educational institutions to the standards of Kendriya Vidyalas, irrespective of their nature of affiliation. Last but perhaps important, an estimated financial memorandum attached to the Bill should specify the required finances to implement the reforms in a time-bound manner.