Millennium Post

‘Government does not seem to be concerned with the rights of children’

Recently, you lost the nursery admissions case in the Delhi High Court. What next? Do you plan to take the case forward?

The High Court in the Nursery admissions case has refused to interfere with the ongoing nursery admission process on technical ground that the Right to Education (RTE) Act 2009 is inapplicable to children below six years. However, at the same time the Court has made scathing observations against the prevailing system of ‘teaching shops’ and also accepted in principle that nursery or pre-primary admission guidelines should also conform to the RTE norms, otherwise, the prohibition upon screening under RTE Act would be rendered meaningless. The court has also suggested amendment in the RTE Act to bring in children below six under the protection of RTE Act, and at
the same time, suggested that a representation may meanwhile be made to the Lieutenant Governor (L-G) of Delhi to amend the Nursery Admissions Order 2007 which still governs Nursery admissions, for making amendments to the said order to make it conform to the RTE norms. We have already made a representation to the L-G in this regard and may move to the High Court soon if no action is taken thereupon. However, at the same time, we are not satisfied with the interpretation that the RTE Act in its entirety, including Section 13 which contains the crucial prohibitions upon capitation fee andscreening, are inapplicable to children below six. We are therefore planning to move the Apex Court on this issue soon.

What according to you should be the ideal admission criteria for children in nursery schools?

We believe that Article 21-A as well as the RTE Act 2009 deal with the right ‘of children’ to free and compulsory education. This right is child-centric, as held by the Supreme Court, and therefore, no extraneous circumstances, such as family background can be considered. Further, this right to education is equally conferred upon all the children, therefore, such extraneous circumstances are rendered irrelevant. The RTE Act, therefore, does not permit any preference to be given to one child over another.

Only random methods, such as draw of lot and neighborhood principle are permissible as criteria for short-listing children, under the Act. No other criteria can do justice to all the children.

Do you agree with the central government’s contention to the Delhi High Court that the RTE Act is applicable to children between 6 to 14 years?

We oppose the stand taken by the central government. The government does not seem to be concerned with the rights of children. It is only interested in protecting the commercial interests of the private schools.

What do you have to say on the condition and status of government schools in the country? If the condition is not satisfactory, how can it be improved?

The status of the government schools in the country is very bad. Even the Supreme Court in its judgment of 12 April 2012 has commented upon it. The only way to improve the government schools in the country is that all these schools must be upgraded to the level of central schools and this must be done on a war footing.

Government-run schools are considered inferior to the private ones? How can one change this perception?

Once the government schools are upgraded to the level of Central Schools, such schools would not be considered inferior to the private ones.

Are the lands given by the government for schools and hosp itals being used for commercialisation of these services? And if yes, what are the remedies?

If one is found to have breached the conditions of the public land allotment, the government can always enter the land and take over the same after cancelling the allotment.

You have filed many petitions in courts on the issues of education and health. Do you think that there have been changes at the ground level because of these petitions?

Certainly, there have been changes at the ground level because of these petitions. With media help, awareness level among the common people on the issues involved in these petitions has increased tremendously which itself has become a force in the realisation of the rights to a large extent. People have to rise for the realisation of their rights. These petitions are certainly helping them in some way or the other.

As a social activist and lawyer, you’ve kept tackling various issues across the country. What are the basic issues in the country today that you feel the govt should focus on a priority basis?

It is really alarming that the aam aadmi in our country still has to fight for the most basic human rights, like,  education, health, food and shelter. Government must focus  on these basic issues.
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