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Delhi: Buck-passing problem

EducationWorld November 12 | Education News EducationWorld

Child rights champions and activists in the national capital are up in arms against Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s Mehta Vidyalaya, a private school which has reportedly been levying above normative tuition fees upon students with disabilities. In a public interest litigation (PIL) writ petition filed against the school by well-known NGO Social Jurist, a division bench of the Delhi high court comprising Chief Justice D. Murugesan and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw issued a show cause notice to the school’s director and the department of education of the Delhi state government. The court has listed the case (Ashok Aggarwal, Adv. vs. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Mehta Vidyalaya and Ors W.P. (c) 6623/2012) for hearing on November 21. “Students with disabilities are charged fee and other charges between 38-39 percent higher than what is charged from general students in the academic year 2012-13.  A class IV student with disabilities is charged tuition fee of Rs.44,640, 38 percent (Rs.12,480) higher than that charged to general students of the same class whose fee is Rs.32,160 during 2012-13,” says the PIL.

This is not the first time that Aggarwal has gone to court to fight for challenged children in the national capital. Last year, he filed a PIL (Social Jurist vs. Govt. of NCT, Delhi W.P. (C) 4618/2011) which alleged that 2,039 private schools and 258 aided schools in Delhi lacked basic infrastructure, including special educators for differently abled students. In its order dated September 29, the court had given these schools time till March 31, 2013 to make their premises barriers-free for challenged children and had directed the state to derecognise private schools which don’t appoint special educators. “Schools where children with special needs are already admitted or will be admitted hereafter shall immediately make provision for special educators… no schools shall refuse admission to children with disability for the reason of not employing special educators or not providing barrier-free access on the school premises,” said the court order.

Aggarwal, a self-confessed communist and champion of a levelled-down school education system who famously persuaded the Delhi high court to direct private schools which had received “concessionally-priced” land from the state and/or local government to reserve a 20 percent quota for poor children long before enactment of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 (which progressively reserves a 25 percent quota in classes I-VIII of private schools for poor children in the neighbourhood), is known to target private schools for their acts of omission and commission. However on this issue of neglect of challenged children, he is equally critical of government and municipal schools. “This year alone, we had written a letter to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, highlighting cases of 193 children with disabilities, who were denied admission in government and civic body-run schools,” he says.

While repeated phone calls and e-mails to Mehta Vidyalaya elicited no response, R.C. Jain, president of the Delhi State Public Schools Association (estb. 1992) which claims a membership of 800 private schools, is sympathetic to the predicament of the (non-member) school. “Ideally, the government should step in and reimburse school managements for the additional expense incurred to accommodate special needs and EWS (economically weaker sections) children. Under the RTE Act, it’s the government’s responsibility to educate every child, not ours. Politicians and bureaucrats should appreciate that high-quality private education — as opposed to the dismal free-of-charge education offered by government schools — comes at a price,” says Jain, also founder-director of the Children’s Welfare Public School (estb. 1981).

Clearly, passing the buck for sustained government neglect of elementary education for over six decades is not as easy as the naïve draftsmen of the RTE Act seem to believe.

Swati Roy (Delhi)

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