Private schools in Maharashtra risk being de-recognised and even losing management control for refusing to admit students under s.12 (1) (c) of the Right of Children to Free & Compulsory Education (aka RTE) Act, 2009. The Maharashtra education department is mulling over taking tough action against the educational institutions on the grounds of ‘neglect of duty’ and the day-to-day management being ‘detrimental to the interest of education’.
Schools in the state were supposed to complete all s.12 (1) (c) admissions by June 30. Under s. 12 (1) (c) of the Act, elementary schools are to reserve 25 percent of capacity in classes I-VIII for poor neighbourhood children aged between 6-14 years. However 1,267 member schools of the Independent English Schools Association (IESA) have boycotted s. 12 (1) (c) admissions until the state government clears the Rs 1077 crore RTE-related reimbursements it owes the schools.
Private unaided schools are to be compensated by the state for providing free of charge education to students from economically weaker sections. Section 12 (2) of the Act decrees the state reimburse schools tuition fees equivalent to the per pupil cost incurred in their own government primary schools or actual fees of private schools, if lower. However Private independent schools say the state has not reimbursed them for the last four years. Already burdened with financial difficulties due to the pandemic, more than 1700 schools are on the brink of closure in the absence of any government relief during the lockdown. As an angry response to the continuous threats of de-recognition from the government, IESA member schools have threatened to gather in Mumbai to surrender their school licenses to the state’s education minister, Varsha Gaikwad.
There are close to 3,00,000 underprivileged children in the state eligible for the S. 12 (1) (c) admissions. The education department has already issued notices to schools across the state asking them to admit students without further delay. Not taking the schools’ defiance lightly the department is likely to impose strict action too. “The state education department has been in consultation with the legal department to enforce private schools in the state to follow its diktat. The department is studying legal options like using the district charity commissioner’s offices under the Bombay Public Trust Act (BPT), 1950 and the Maharashtra Educational Institutions (management) Act (MEI) , 1976,” revealed a source dealing with the state’s education department.
Under s. 3 of the Maharashtra Educational Institutions (management) Act (MEI), 1976 the director of education ‘can take over the school’s management for a period not exceeding three year’. Further, no show-cause notice shall be necessary where the director is satisfied that the management is indulging in activities which are prejudicial to ‘maintenance of public order in the state’. After taking over the director can appoint one or more administrators to manage the institution. Similarly, provisions under s. 41 of the BPT Act also gives powers to the director of education to dismiss school trustees.
Education activists across the state have been pressing the government to take stringent action against “errant” schools. In letters addressed to chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, education minister and other government officials, activists have asked the government to file all complaints against schools (as a caveat) in the Bombay High Court and its Aurangabad bench to present the views of the affected children for consideration.
“While Schools have a valid demand asking for reimbursements, putting the student’s education on hold by refusing admissions when the academic year has begun is blackmailing. The government should not fall for such high-handedness of schools. It should initiate a process to de-recognise these errant schools run by IESA’s office bearers that are violating the RTE Act. If even these initial actions fail to tame the remaining ordinary members then a mass action should be ordered against all protesting schools while giving them a period of 24 hours to fall in line,” says Pune-based education activist, Maruti Bhapkar.
Meanwhile, adamant about their demands from the government being non-negotiable, private schools will soon approach the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court to seek relief against any coercive action by the government or education department.
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