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Although in most states of the Indian Union, implementation of s. 12 (1) (c) of the RTE Act is at best nominal, in the national capital territory of Delhi compliance is an astonishing 92 percent — the highest countrywide  Gagandeep Kaur

Five years after the historic Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (aka RTE Act) became law in 2010, its hotly contested s.12 (1) (c), which requires private independent and aided schools countrywide to admit underprivileged children from poor households in their neighbourhood to the extent of 25 percent of capacity in class I and retain them until completion of elementary education (class VIII), continues to be mired in chaos and controversy and has substantially failed to achieve its objective.

For a start, in Society for Unaided Schools of Rajasthan vs. Union of India (Writ Petition (c) No. 95 of 2010), the majority judgement of a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court exempted minority (and boarding) schools from the purview of s.12 (1) (c), taking a substantial number of much-prized ‘convent’ or missionary primary schools out of the reach of socio-economically disadvantaged households. Since then there’s been considerable confusion about which schools qualify for minority status with a large number of school managements claiming exemption on the basis of language and/or religious affiliations of promoters.

Controversy has also arisen over the ambit of ‘neighbourhood’ and the word ‘weaker section and disadvantaged group’. Given this definitional and other uncertainty about eligibility for s.12 (1) (c) admissions, it’s unsurprising that compliance is abysmal.

According to State of the Nation: RTE Section 12 (1) (c), a nationwide study conducted jointly by IIM-Ahmedabad, the Delhi-based Central Square Foundation, Accountability Initiative and Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, of the estimated 2.1 million seats in private schools available to children of EWS (economically weaker sections) households countrywide, only 610,000 (29 percent) have been filled. The 150-page report says that the RTE Rules and notifications framed by state governments to give effect to s.12 (1) (c) are ambiguous and discretionary with wide disparity in compliance across states. Compliance varies between a dismal 0.1 percent in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha (1 percent) and Uttar Pradesh (2 percent) and a modest 11.25 percent in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra (19.35 percent), and 25.5 percent in Karnataka (see box p.90).

But although in most states implementation of s.12 (1) (c) is at best nominal, in Delhi state described as the ‘national capital territory of Delhi’, compliance with the mandate of s.12 (1) (c) is an astonishing 92 percent — the highest countrywide. In the academic year 2013-14, of the 38,297 seats available in the national capital’s non-minority 2,272 private schools, 35,264 were allotted to EWS children. Moreover, Delhi state is awarded the maximum (14) ‘green reviews’ on 21 criteria listed by the study as preconditions of successful implementation of s.12 (1) (c) (see box p.95).

“The Directorate of Education (Delhi) is of the view that the RTE Act is being ‘successfully implemented’. They feel that the EWS policy has been accepted in its proper spirit by the private school managements and there is no discrimination amongst the pupils and the goal of social assimilation is in fact being met,” writes Shailaja Chandra, former chief secretary of the Delhi state government, in an essay in State of the Nation: RTE Section 12 (1) (c).

After the RTE Act, 2009 became operational on April 1, 2010, the Delhi state government was the first to enact the Delhi RTE Rules 2011. Subsequently, the state’s directorate of education issued detailed guidelines for admission of EWS children under s.12 (1) (c) including thorough definitions of eligibility, selection and admission criteria. With the demand for admission into Delhi’s non-minority private schools by far exceeding supply, all s.12 (1) (c) admissions are determined by lottery supervised by a representative of the directorate with the proceedings videographed and monitored by a District Admission Monitoring Committee. The tuition fee of poor neighbourhood children admitted under s. 12 (1) (c) is paid by the State (government) which has a limited obligation to reimburse private schools fees equivalent to the per student expenditure incurred in its own schools.

“Delhi has done well in transparently defining s.12 (1) (c) admissions criteria. In our State of the Nation: RTE Section 12 (1) (c) study, it has got ‘green’ reviews for clarity in defining eligibility and documentation required, information outreach/awareness, selection process, and grievance mechanism. The one area where it has received a ‘red’ review is in transparency of reimbursement provision where proper guidelines haven’t been issued. Clear definition of the admissions process by the state government and relatively high public awareness has contributed to 92 percent of s.12 (1) (c) seats being filled in Delhi.

Moreover, Delhi has a history of social integration and EWS quotas in private schools. Some private schools were admitting EWS students even before the RTE Act came into force, so s.12 (1) (c) didn’t come as a shock. But admitting RTE quota children is only the first step. Delhi’s private schools are struggling to teach a heterogeneous group of students,” says Praveen Khanghta, an alumnus of National Institute of Technology, Kurukshetra and Ashoka University and programme manager of the Delhi-based Central Square Foundation (estb.2012 by former venture capitalist Ashish Dhawan; corpus: Rs.50 crore).

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