The draft National Education Policy (NEP), being framed by Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), seems to be ringing alarm bells among the minorities. The Committee for Evolution of NEP, constituted by MHRD under the chairmanship of T S R Subramanian, former Union Cabinet Secretary, has recommended that “the issue of extension of Clause 12 (1) ( C ) of the RTE Act to minority institutions needs a review. The Committee feels that the larger national obligations to meet the rights of economic weaker sections should extend to all institutions, including minority (religious and linguistic) institutions.”
The MHRD, which came out with “some inputs for Draft National Education Policy,” has also echoed the high-powered panel’s view that “the issue of extension of Clause 12 (1) ( C ) of RTE Act to government-aided institutions (religious and linguistic) will be examined in view of larger national commitments towards the economically weaker sections.”
Discussing the issue of 25 percent reservation for weaker sections and disadvantaged groups under the Right to Education Act, the Subramanian Panelsuggests application of EWS Quota to religious and linguistic minority institutions. The panel notes that “minority (religious and linguistic) schools have been exempted from the RTE by the Supreme Court under Article 30 of the Constitution, as per the finding in Pramati Educational and Cultural Trust Vs Union of India. ” It goes on to add that “surprisingly, even aided minority schools have been given exemption; not surprisingly, there has been reportedly a marked increase in schools seeking minority status post this judgement!”
This way, the panel virtually mocks at Supreme Court judgement pronounced by a five-judge Constitution bench comprising then Chief Justice R M Lodha and Justices A K Patnaik, S J Mukhopadhaya, Dipak Misra and F J I Kalifulla in May 2014. While upholding the RTE Act 2009, the bench, inter alia, had exempted minority schools, both aided and unaided, from the purview of the Act on the ground that minority schools could not be put under legal obligation to provide free and compulsory elementary education to children who were not members of the minority community which had established the school.
“In our view, if the RTE Act is made applicable to minority schools, aided or unaided, the right of the minorities under Article 30 (1) of the Constitution will be abrogated. Therefore, the (provision of the) 2009 Act, which made it applicable to minority schools, is unconstitutional,” the bench observed.
The apex court’s verdict seems to have caused consternation to Subramanian Committee which claimed that “even given the current legal status, the question remains moot about a constitutionally permissible balance involving Article 21 (A), Article 15 (4) and Article 30. It is to be noted that the right under Article 21 (A) has been constricted under the present legal interpretation.”
“Indeed, it can be argued with some merit that the responsibility to provide free and compulsory education of satisfactory quality to children from disadvantaged and weaker sections would extend to not only government schools but also on schools not dependent on government funds. There is a likelihood that the present legal dispensation is a result of an earlier apex legal finding relating to higher education, now inducted to include elementary education in its scope and interpretation,” the panel pointed out.
The panel goes further and says “without entering into the legal aspects, it is now important to reconcile the right of the economically weaker sections with the right of the minorities under Article 30 (1), particularly when minority institutions often appear to clutch at any prop to ensure that their obligations, met by other aided or unaided schools, are circumvented.”
In fact, the high-powered committee seems to question the rationale of Article 30 which deals with the right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions, particularly Sub-section (1) which enjoins that “all minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.”
The panel erroneously seems to treat the minorities, particularly Muslims, as educationally and socio-economically forward communities vis-a-vis “the economically weaker sections.” It also appears oblivious to substantive empirical data on the economic, social and educational backwardness of minorities, particularly Muslim community, as brought out by umpteen official panels and surveys, including Gopal Singh High-Powered Committee, Sachar Committee, Ranganath Misra Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, several rounds of NSSO Surveys, and the reports of various BC Commissions constituted by various States all over the country from time to time. The panel does not even rely on the educational profile of minorities that emerges from the Census data for 2011 and the latest statistics of the District Information System on Education (DISE).
Betraying its real motives, the panel insists that “this issue (of exempting minority institutions from RTE) needs further examination and clarification, not only to expand the scope of reaching out to EWS students, but also to ensure that minority institutions are established only for the genuine reasons envisaged by the Constitution-that they are actually designed to meet the basic objective to meet the predominant needs of minorities – that they do not use their ‘Constitutional’ privilege to manoeuvre out of national obligations established in overall public interest. The same issues need to be addressed in the case of linguistic minority schools, in a likewise manner.”