Saturday, March 23, 2013

Schools in RTE loop seek to exploit 'minority' loophole

Schools in RTE loop seek to exploit 'minority' loophole
http://m.firstpost.com/india/schoolsrte-loop-seek-to-exploit-minority-loophole-335539.html

There is a rush among schools to seek minority status to avoid having to take on the 25 percent quota for the poor under the RTE Act.

Minority status. Reuters
by FP Editors 07 Jun 16:09 pm IST
In India, the loophole has always been central to any law. And so, it seems, is the case with the much-ballyhooed Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE), which will force private schools to offer at least 25 percent of their seats to the poor.

In what can only be called a flawed judgment, the Supreme Court in April upheld the applicability of the RTE Act to private schools, but curiously excluded unaided minority-run schools from its ambit. In short, the RTE law's primary loophole is the exclusion of minority institutions from its coverage.

So what do you think is happening? Schools are rushing to jump through the loophole by declaring themselves minority institutions.

A report in DNA newspaper quotes Maharashtra's Minorities Minister Arif Naseem Khan as saying, "There is a mad rush of schools applying for minority status after the RTE Act was enforced. Thousands of applications are pending with us for the last two to three months. Seeing the rush, we have now become strict in granting status. We have increased the number of checks and inspections so that only genuine minority schools can benefit from it."

When ministers talk of "strict" checks, it is like an open invitation to underhand approaches. More bribes will be paid for acquiring the minority status.

Past verdicts of the Supreme Court have recognised two kinds of minority institutions: religious and linguistic. And for the purpose of determining minority, the state is the geographical unit to determine. This, in future you will find more south Indian institutions in the north and vice-versa. Hindu institutions which want minority status will have to head to Nagaland.

The rush for minority status could thus be of both kinds - linguistic and religious. But the interesting part is that even existing minority institutions that did not earlier feel the need to deem themselves as such are now reviewing the same to opt out of the RTE's rigours.

In Rajasthan, for example, Christian schools which have been run largely on secular lines are now seeking the "M" tag.

"We are working our way to get the status of minority so that we do not come under RTE. How can we adopt provisions of the Act when several students will have to be given admissions on reserved seats? How are we going to manage their studies when we do not get any aid, particularly when we are already giving concession to weaker sections?" Father JC Joseph of All Saints Church School in Jaipur told DNA.

The Times of India says that this trend has got academicians worried and some RTE forums are planning to fight this trend in court. "Most good and famous schools are categorised as minority institutions. Now, the remaining institutions will also want the same status and that will defeat the purpose of the RTE Act," the newspaper said, quoting Jayant Jain, president of Forum for Fairness in Education (FFE). The forum will move court if the trend gets alarming and schools deny admissions to poor students.

This loophole is something the Supreme Court could have avoided creating in its April judgement. As Firstpost noted earlier, the majority judgment, written by Chief Justice SH Kapadia and Justice Swatanter Kumar, rejected the contention of unaided private schools that the RTE was an "unreasonable restriction" on their constitutional right to run and administer educational institutions under article 19(1)(G) of the constitution.

The Chief Justice said the RTE Act was not meant to be institution-specific and held that their right to "establish and administer an educational institution is a fundamental right, as long as the activity remains charitable". If it was not a charitable institution, it would not be entitled to this right under article 19(1)(G). The court held that children have an "absolute" right to get education under the new Article 21A, and this right cannot be exercised if it were to exclude the poor.

It then went on to contradict itself by specifically exempting minority unaided institutions from the RTE.

Little wonder, every school which can seek the minority status is trying to squeeze itself through this loophole before it closes.

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