Vol. XLIII No. 14 April 07, 2019
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Right to Education: Momentous Victory for Parents in Bombay High Court

Sudhir M Paranjape

THE haughty BJP-Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra had to eat a humble pie before the Bombay High Court last month. The government had to withdraw its order cancelling all admissions to pre-primary classes made as per the entry point dictum of the RTE Act. On July 24, the Additional Government Pleader had to state before the high court bench that the state had withdrawn the Government Resolution (GR), dated April 30, and went on to table the new GR of July 23 issued in its place. The obnoxious April 30 resolution had played havoc by summarily cancelling all admissions to pre-primary classes made as per the Right to Education Act. And it did so not only for the admissions finalised this year, but forced out all children admitted even in previous years and still studying at the pre-primary level before Standard-I across the state. Hence a semblance of sanity has been restored with the cancellation of the April 30 GR.

Background: Dilly-Dallying by Education Minister

The BJP-Shiv Sena government, especially School Education Minister Vinod Tawde, who also holds the Higher and Technical Education portfolio, had been riding a high horse on the question of implementation of the 25 per cent quota admissions reserved under the RTE Act for the socially disadvantaged group and economically weaker sections. Notwithstanding the fact that the BJP had failed to muster a clear majority in the state elections and had to manoeuvre for some time to cobble the coalition with its erstwhile ally Shiv Sena, it adopted a rigid and unaccommodating stance on the education front.

So when the officials of the Department of School Education announced in December 2014 their plan to hold early admissions for the 25 per cent quota seats, keeping in mind the inordinate delays that had occurred in all previous years, causing admissions to continue well after the new academic years had started, the proposal was shot down by Tawde. Then again, when the same department officials had proposed that admissions for the open quota and reserved quota seats be conducted simultaneously in January 2015, Tawde again blocked it on the flimsy ground that different boards had different dates for starting of their academic terms. He showed his utter disregard for children belonging to the weaker sections who would suffer the most when admitted into such schools 2-3 months late.

Belated Start in Admission to Reserved Seats

As a result of this dithering, the process of online admission for children belonging to the socially disadvantaged group (SDG) and economically weaker sections (EWS) began in Maharashtra only at the end of February after a few false starts. Meanwhile, the state government had issued a GR on January 21, regulating how these admissions ought to be carried out, taking into consideration objections raised last year by numerous managements that the intake capacity differences in their schools at Standard-I and pre-primary level had been ignored. The January 21GR had not only allowed for such differences in capacity, but had proceeded to direct that any vacancy that remained unfilled at the pre-primary level would be considered as backlog, and would have to be filled up at Standard-I stage of admission. Because of this, when the eligible schools were displayed on the official website -- www.rte25admission.maharashtra.gov.in, a large number of schools appeared in which the intake capacity was displayed not only for the ‘entry point’ at the pre-primary level, but also for Standard-I.

Neither the parents of the SDG/EWS children seeking admission nor the activists or organisations such as the Anudanit Shiksha Bachao Samiti of Mumbai, championing their cause and assisting them, had any say in these decisions or the choices, such as two-level admissions, that were finally made available to the children through their parents. They proceeded to act on the basis of the rules of the game that had been presented to them as fait accompli, and completed the formalities of the online admissions process despite grave hardships and challenges.

Massive agitations

Unfortunately, a sordid drama was played out by the private managements, precisely on the question of two-level admissions due to backlog, in collusion with the Education Minister. Thus, soon after the admissions for the first round closed around the end of March, and the online lottery for selection of children was conducted in the first week of April, parents whose children had been ‘selected’ were allowed to download their ‘allotment letters’ for particular schools. They queued up at the gates of the concerned schools before the last date specified in the allotment letters. But the arrogant school managements, under one pretext or another, not only refused to grant them admission; they even refused to acknowledge receipt of timely submission of the ‘allotment letter’ by the parents/children. Several meetings of school managements were convened by the authorities (BMC, and Deputy Director) but to no avail.

Not surprisingly, this year too witnessed massive agitations by angry parents under the banner of the Anudanit Shiksha Bachao Samiti, and participation by SFI, DYFI, Janawadi Mahila Sanghatan and like-minded organisations against the individual managements, and also against the authorities, to compel them to honour the ‘allotment letters’ signifying successful completion of the process on the part of the children/parents and also for holding further rounds for the children still to get seats. The one thing that has become crystal clear during the four consecutive years of implementation of the RTE Act in Maharashtra is this: Irrespective of which bourgeois-landlord combination wrests power in the state, agitation for securing the Right to Education of the downtrodden has become an inevitable reality in the state. This provides an opportunity and also places responsibility on the Party and the Left and democratic forces to expose the bankruptcy of the ruling classes in fulfilling the basic needs of the working people including not only food, shelter, and clothing but also education of their children.

Nefarious Conspiracy

Meanwhile, the wealthy private managements, who have close links to the ruling as well as opposition bourgeois landlord parties, were hatching a heinous conspiracy with the Education Minister to subvert the 25 per cent quota admissions in the state. Many prominent schools close to the BJP as well as the NCP bosses were simply refusing to give admissions in vacancies arising on account of the backlog; they were holding secret meetings with the Education Minister. This became obvious when the Education Minister forced the Education Department to scrap the admissions to all pre-primary classes and also to annul the ‘backlog’ of seats due to carried-forward vacancies at the pre-primary level. This was the origin of the Government Resolution dated April 30, 2015 issued within two days of the high court directing in a progressive judgment that the state government must reimburse expenses not only at Standard-I and above, but also for all pre-primary classes.

Court as well as Street Battles

The activists were left with little option, except to take recourse to the judiciary, through a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to get redress for the massive damage caused by promulgation of the April 30 GR. An interim stay was issued on May 7by the high court division bench comprising Justice Anoop V Mohta and Justice V L Achliya. It categorically stated that the status quo ante as on April 29 shall prevail along with all the directives in force as on that date; and that the conduct of all concerned should be such as though the GR of April 30 had not been issued. This enabled the Anudanit Shiksha Bachao Samiti (ASBS) to regroup and enthuse parents to agitate through various fora to safeguard at least the gains achieved during the first round of admissions, even though the task was by no means straightforward.

Despite it being vacation period for schools as well as the court, the ASBS organised a massive dharna on June 4 at the Azad Maidan in Mumbai which was addressed by CPI(M) Central Committee members Mahendra Singh and Sudha Sundaram and other leaders of the Samiti. And a month later, to coincide with the state-wide government-sponsored drive for registration of ‘out-of-school’ children as defined in the RTE Act, hundreds of parents, mainly mothers along with their toddlers as well as their Standard-I cousins, braved the travails of fasting during the month of Ramzan and blocked traffic on the prestigious Marine Drive in Mumbai. Over 65 parents and activists of the Anudanit Shiksha Bachao Samiti, SFI, and DYFI were detained by the police who were brutal in handling the agitators who were countering the unjust policies of the government.

Victory and Preparation for Battles to Come

On July 24, after protracted struggles in the streets as well as in the courtroom, the parents scored their first victory, with the government declaring in court through the Additional Government Pleader that the mischievous April 30 GR had been withdrawn and also tabled the revised GR restoring the earlier order of January 21 that includes both: the need to fill seats from the pre-primary entry level and also to clear the backlog by giving admissions in Standard-I for vacancies carried forward. The game plan of the managements hatched in cahoots with the Education Minister has been foiled for now. But they are trying their utmost through a slew of over 15 petitions and a battery of even more lawyers and senior counsel, solicitors and what not, to overturn the prevailing judicial verdicts and undermine the RTE Act. On their part, the parents anxious to protect their children’s hard won rights, and their organisations will continue the fight with the support of the Party and the Left and democratic minded citizens, till the reactionary forces are rebuffed decisively. (END)