Kar HC | State government obliged to reimburse unaided schools for RTE children, only if there are no government or government-aided schools in neighbourhood

Karnataka High Court: A Division Bench of L. Narayana Swamy and P.S. Dinesh Kumar, JJ. allowed a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) to declare amendment 4 of Karnataka Rights of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules, 2012, as null and void on the grounds of violation of Article 21-A of the Constitution of India.

The Government of Karnataka enacted Karnataka Rights of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules in 2012 (herein Karnataka Act) to implement the provisions of Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act passed by the Parliament in 2009 (herein RTE Act). Section 12(2) of the Karnataka Act defined the term ‘school’ as per Section 2(n) of RTE Act, 2009. Under this section, the unaided private schools were envisaged reimbursement as compensation for filling 25 per cent seats for the RTE children from weaker parts of the society. However, on 30-01-2019, the Government of Karnataka enacted an amendment altering the definition of term ‘school’ under Section 12(2) of the Karnataka Act. After this amendment, unaided schools were not required to provide admission to disadvantaged children where there government and unaided schools in the neighborhood. Thereafter, a writ petition was filed under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India to quash the impugned amendment.

The learned counsels for petitioners, Suman Hedge, Manasi Sharma, and Chethan B, contended that the Amendment was against the RTE Act, as it created an obligation for disadvantaged children to take admission in government schools against their choice. They argued that the parents of poor children didn’t want to send their wards to government schools as they lacked pre-elementary education and they were not English-medium schools. Moreover, they said that issuing of reimbursement to unaided schools was not be considered a burden by Karnataka Government as their total budget including such reimbursement amount was less than the national average of the educational budget. Furthermore, they argued that the amendment that notifies ‘neighborhood principle’ was bad in law. This provision said that within 1 km of the locality of poor children, if there were no private schools and within 3 km, if there was no higher secondary school, then the children had to enroll in the government school situated in their locality.

The learned State counsel for respondents, the Advocate General, Udaya Holla argued that due to the reservation under RTE there had been a tremendous fall in the number government schools as several schools had been shut down over the years. Moreover, a tremendous increase in the number of private schools was witnessed from 2011-12. The State counsel also argued that a heavy burden had been there on the State government and over the years the cost of reimbursement had increased manifold.  He also contended that the ‘neighborhood principle’ was in consonance with the spirit of the RTE Act. It postulated that if there was a government school nearby, the children couldn’t avail the option of going to private schools.

The Court observed that the State government or the local authorities were under the obligation to provide reimbursement to unaided schools for RTE children only if there were no government or government-aided schools in the neighborhood. Reliance was laid upon Unni Krishnan, J.P. v. State of Andhra Pradesh, (1993) 1 SCC 645 to hold that reimbursement of expenditure incurred on elementary education of a child was permissible only in the case where the government or aided schools were not available. Hence, the Court declared that the amendment was neither arbitrary nor unconstitutional nor in violation of Article 21-A of the Constitution of India. The Court further said that once the government schools were established then the government need not reimburse the education of RTE children. Therefore, the prayer sought by petitioners was not granted and the PIL was rejected.[Education Rights Trust v. Government of Karnataka, 2019 SCC OnLine Kar 567, decided on 31-05-2019]

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