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The Karnataka High Court has upheld an amendment by the state government precluding unaided schools from providing free education to underprivileged children, provided there exist aided or government schools in the vicinity.
The judgment was passed by a Bench of Justices L Narayanaswamy and PS Dinesh Kumar in a batch of writ petitions challenging the amendment to Rule 4 of the Karnataka Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules, 2012.
By way of background, the state government had introduced the Rules in 2012, pursuant to the Centre’s passing of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act). Rule 8 seeks to compensate private unaided schools for reserving 25% of their seats for students from disadvantaged sections of society.
In January 2019, the Karnataka government brought in amendment to the 2012 Rules, stating that unaided schools are not required to give admission to disadvantage children if there are government/aided schools in their neighbourhood. Such unaided schools will not be entitled to compensation for reserving 25% of their seats as per Rule 8.
This amendment came to be challenged before the High Court through petitions filed by parents of children seeking admission to schools under the RTE Act.
It was contended by the petitioners that government schools are not preferred, and that parents cannot be forced to admit their children in schools that do not have English as the medium of instruction. These government schools also do not have kindergarten, putting the children at a disadvantage. Thus, the opportunity of disadvantaged children to get into private schools is taken away by the amendment, it was argued.
Counsel for the petitioners Suman Hegde, Manasi Sharma, and Chetan B also argued that the amendment is contrary to the RTE Act as it forces children to get admission in undeveloped government schools against their will. Section 12(1) of the RTE Act gives underprivileged children the right to join a school of their choice, it was pointed out.
On the other hand, the state government defended the amendment contending that as per Section 12(1)(c) of the RTE Act, unaided schools cannot compel the government to sponsor children to their schools, if govt schools are available in the area.
The necessity to provide free education in unaided schools under Rule 8 arose only when there are no government/aided schools in the neighbourhood, it was argued.
Advocate General Udaya Holla further pointed out that due to the RTE Act and the reservation it provides, many government schools across the state have been closed, and that there has been a steady increase in the number of private schools. This has caused a heavy burden on the state exchequer. Holla stated that Rs. 1,300 crore has been spent by the state government since the RTE Act came into force, out of which Rs. 700 crore is for reimbursements to unaided schools.
After hearing the arguments, the Bench sided with the state government, observing,
“If the petitioner’s contention is to be accepted, the State Government will be compelled to reimburse astronomical figures. The argument on behalf of the petitioners that children entitled for seat under the RTE Act may choose an unaided school in the neighbourhood though there exist Government and aided schools, is fallacious.”
It was further held that the government was under no obligation to reimburse unaided schools for admitting underprivileged children.
“When these schools have been established, then the Government need not reimburse the cost or expenditure on the elementary education of a child. If at all, the parents want to admit their children to private schools, it is out of their decisions for which the Government is not liable or accountable.”
If the amendment were to be struck down, the functioning of government schools would be at stake, the Bench further observed.
The Court also delved into the aspect of judicial review of policy decisions of the government. It relied on a number of Supreme Court judgments to note that courts should not interfere in decisions which are not arbitrary or unreasonable.
Thus, the amendment of the state government was upheld, and the writ petitions were dismissed.
Read the judgment: