The Supreme Court today upheld the constitutional validity of the Right to Education Act that reserves 25 per cent free seats to poor students in government and private unaided schools, except minority institutions.
The majority view, held by a three-judge bench headed by chief justice S H Kapadia, clarified the judgment would apply prospectively, and admissions already made would not be affected.
The Act was passed after amending the Constitution and inserting Article 21(A) in the fundamental rights chapter. The law says the state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children between six and 14 years in a manner as the state may, by law, determine.
Private school managements which do not receive government aid had opposed the reservation of seats for the poor, saying this would impinge their fundamental right to run schools. They added this would also drain their resources.
The government, however, defended the law, asserting it was aimed at uplifting the socially and its economically weaker sections. It argued it was necessary to de-link merit and talent from social and economic differences. It said the law was a big step towards establishing “composite classrooms with children from diverse backgrounds, rather than homogeneous and exclusivist schools”. It also said it was ready to reimburse private schools for expenses on poor students.
On one issue, there was a difference of opinion among the three judges. The chief justice and Swatanter Kumar said the law would apply uniformly to government and unaided private schools, while the dissenting judge, Radhakrishnan, felt the law should not apply to both unaided private schools and minority institutions which did not receive any aid or grant from the government.