Right to free Education under Constitution of India

Free education to all: A reneged constitutional objective of India!

Article 45 of Constitution of India providing objective of free education to all:

Article 45 of the Constitution of India as originally enacted had a promise to provide free education to all children until they reach the age of 14 years. This objective remain unfulfilled with no steps taken to achieve this objective which was in the nature of a directive principle to the governance of State. In 2002 this directive was modified and the obligation was changed to provide free education to children upto the age of six years. Thus the executive fainaiguer was constitutionally accepted.

Recent amendments in Constitution of India to provide free education:

Constitution (Eighty-Sixth Amendment) Act, 2002 reduced the age of children entited to free education to six years and inserted an article 21-A in the Constitution with the following objective:

“The Constitution of India in a Directive Principle contained in article 45, has ‘made a provision for free and compulsory education for all children up to the age of fourteen years within ten years of promulgation of the Constitution. We could not achieve this goal even after 50 years of adoption of this provision. The task of providing education to all children in this age group gained momentum after the National Policy of Education (NPE) was announced in 1986. The Government of India, in partnership with the State Governments, has made strenuous efforts to fulfil this mandate and, though significant improvements were seen in various educational indicators, the ultimate goal of providing universal and quality education still remains unfulfilled. In order to fulfil this goal, it is felt that an explicit provision should be made in the Part relating to Fundamental Rights of the Constitution.

Article 21A of the Constitution of India:

“21A. Right to education.: The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine.”

Constitution (Ninety-third Amendment) Act, 2005 (with effect from 20.01.2006) was enacted to provide following object:

“Greater access to higher education including professional education to a larger number of students belonging to the socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes has been a matter of major concern. At present, the number of seats available in aided or State maintained institutions, particularly in respect of professional education, is limited in comparison to those in private unaided institutions.”

This Constitution (Ninety-third Amendment) Act inserted clause (5) of Article 15 in the Constitution of India:

“Nothing in this article or in sub-clause (g) of clause (1) of article 19 shall prevent the State from making any special provision, by law, for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes in so far as such special provisions relate to their admission to educational institutions including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the State, other than the minority educational institutions referred to in clause (1) of article 30.

Challenge to provision for free education to backward classes:

The Clause (5) in Article 15 of the Constitution, vested a power on the State, independent of and different from, the regulatory power under clause (6) of Article 19, and question raised was whether this new power vested in the State which enables the State to force the charitable element on a private educational institution destroys the right under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. Thus Supreme Court of India was called upon to decide the following two substantial questions of law:

    1. Whether by inserting clause (5) in Article 15 of the Constitution by the Constitution (Ninety-third Amendment) Act, 2005, Parliament has altered the basic structure or framework of the Constitution of India
    2. Whether by inserting Article 21A of the Constitution by the Constitution (Eighty-Sixth Amendment) Act, 2002, Parliament has altered the basic structure or framework of the Constitution India.

Reasoning of Supreme Court while upholding the above Constitutional Amendments:

In India by Constitution (Eighty- Sixth Amendment) Act, a new power was made available to the State under Article 21A of the Constitution to make a law determining the manner in which it will provide free and compulsory education to the children of the age of six to fourteen years as this goal contemplated in the Directive Principles in Article 45 before this constitutional amendment could not be achieved for fifty years. This additional power vested by the Constitution (Eighty-Sixth Amendment) Act, 2002 in the State is independent and different from the power of the State under clause (6) of Article 19 of the Constitution and has affected the voluntariness of the right under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. By exercising this additional power, the State can by law impose admissions on private unaided schools and so long as the law made by the State in exercise of this power under Article 21A of the Constitution is for the purpose of providing free and compulsory education to the children of the age of 6 to 14 years and so long as such law forces admission of children of poorer, weaker and backward sections of the society to a small percentage of the seats in private educational institutions to achieve the constitutional goals of equality of opportunity and social justice set out in the Preamble of the Constitution, such a law would not be destructive of the right of the private unaided educational institutions under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.

Under Section 12(1)(c) read with Section 2(n)(iv) of the Act, an unaided school not receiving any kind of aid or grants to meet its expenses from the appropriate Government or the local authority is required to admit in class I, to the extent of at least twenty-five per cent of the strength of that class, children belonging to weaker section and disadvantaged group in the neighbourhood and provide free and compulsory elementary education till its completion. We further find that under Section 12(2) of the 2009 Act such a school shall be reimbursed expenditure so incurred by it to the extent of per- child-expenditure incurred by the State, or the actual amount charged from the child, whichever is less, in such manner as may be prescribed. Thus, ultimately it is the State which is funding the expenses of free and compulsory education of the children belonging to weaker sections and several groups in the neighbourhood, which are admitted to a private unaided school. These provisions of the 2009 Act, in our view, are for the purpose of providing free and compulsory education to children between the age group of 6 to 14 years and are consistent with the right under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution

The width and amplitude test:

A plain reading of clause (5) of Article 15 would show that the power of a State to make a law can only be exercised where it is necessary for advancement of socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and not for any other purpose. Thus, if a law is made by the State only to appease a class of citizen which is not socially or educationally backward or which is not a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, such a law will be beyond the powers of the State under clause (5) of Article 15 of the Constitution. A plain reading of clause (5) of Article 15 of the Constitution will further show that such law has to be limited to making a special provision relating to admission to private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided, by the State. Hence, if the State makes a law which is not related to admission in educational institutions and relates to some other aspects affecting the autonomy and rights of private educational institutions as defined by this Court in T.M.A. Pai Foundation, such a law would not be within the power of the State under clause (5) of Article 15 of the Constitution. In other words, power in clause (5) of Article 15 of the Constitution is a guided power to be exercised for the limited purposes stated in the clause and as and when a law is made by the State in purported exercise of the power under clause (5) of Article 15 of the Constitution, the Court will have to examine and find out whether it is for the purposes of advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes and whether the law is confined to admission of such socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes to private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided, and if the Court finds that the power has not been exercised for the purposes mentioned in clause (5) of Article 15 of the Constitution, the Court will have to declare the law as ultra vires Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. In our opinion, therefore, the width of the power vested on the State under clause (5) of Article 15 of the Constitution by the constitutional amendment is not such as to destroy the right under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.

A law made under clause (5) of Article 15 of the Constitution by the State on the ground that it treats private aided educational institutions and private unaided educational institutions alike is not immune from a challenge under Article 14 of the Constitution. Clause (5) of Article 15 of the Constitution only states that nothing in Article 15 or Article 19(1)(g) will prevent the State to make a special provision, by law, for admission of socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes to educational institutions including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the State. Clause (5) of Article 15 of the Constitution does not say that such a law will not comply with the other requirements of equality as provided in Article 14 of the Constitution.

Exclusion of minority institutions from obligation to provide free education:

Minority educational institutions, by themselves, are a separate class and their rights are protected under Article 30 of the Constitution, and, therefore, the exclusion of minority educational institutions from Article 15(5) is not violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. By excluding the minority institutions referred to in clause (1) of Article 30 of the Constitution, the secular character of India is maintained and not destroyed.

[Source: Pramati Educational & Cultural Trust v. Union of India, (Supreme Court of India)]

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