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Recently, a division bench of the Delhi High Court had to pass an order to get a seven-year-old child with a prosthetic leg admitted to a private school in his neighbourhood in the Economically Weaker Sections’ (EWS) category. The school, Siddharth International Public School, in Delhi, had strongly resisted an order of the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal (MACT) to admit the boy to the school.

Seven-year-old Priyanshu had met with a road accident which resulted in the loss of one of his legs. His father died of cancer a few months after the accident. His mother works in a factory/workshop packing plastic spoons in boxes. She had applied to the MACT to have her son admitted in a school.

As Siddharth International Public School was considered to be a good school near the boy’s residence, MACT ordered the school to accept him in class I in the EWS category. Class I was chosen as the boy had no formal education before, therefore the Field Officer from the Department Of Education of the Delhi Government surmised that this would be a good class to commence his education.

On appeal by the school in the case, it was found by the single judge of the Delhi High Court that the MACT did not have the jurisdiction to order the school to admit the child. Nevertheless, the single judge held that under Article 226 the High Court, which is a constitutional court, it can pass orders in the interests of equity and justice. Therefore, under Article 226 and in accordance with Section 12 of the Right to Education Act, the High Court directed that the boy be admitted to the school. After the dismissal of this petition the school filed an appeal which came up before a division bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Sangita Dhingra Sehgal.

The school argued that its 25 per cent quota for the EWS category was full and the boy was already over the upper age limit for class I. The division bench in its judgment also paraphrased the single judge’s argument against the school’s contention that the presence of the child in the class would disturb the other general category children. The point was stated thus: “The petitioner-school’s contention that admission of Master Priyanshu would have disastrous consequences for the General students already studying in Class 1, is ill-founded. On the contrary, Master Priyanshu’s admission would make the general students more sensitive and humane as they would appreciate the challenges faced by a student with disability and poverty.”

After it was shown to the Delhi High Court that according to the calculations made by the counsel for the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD), the school was not over the 25 per cent limit and could still accommodate two more children in the category, the division bench of the High Court made a significant observation in its judgment. It ruled that the 25 percent stipulation in the EWS category is not an upper limit and “the intendment of the Act is to provide admission to the children belonging to weaker sections in all schools to the extent of at least 25%”. This observation has significant ramifications for those private schools which see 25 percent as a ceiling on the intake of children from the EWS category.

Such an interpretation of the 25 percent quota may cause some worry among private schools. However, there seems to be an in-built presumption of logic that the extending of the 25 percent quota will not be imposed so as to impede the functioning of the school but is presumably more in the way of accommodating an extra child or two when the need arises as in this case of Siddharth International Public School. Or else, it should not come in the way if a private school itself chooses to increase its intake of EWS children.

The judgment does not go into the school’s contention that the boy’s age was over the limit for Class I. Presumably this is because the Delhi Education Act states very clearly in Section 16, that the only age limitation is that a child below the age of five cannot be admitted to Class I. There is nothing about an upper age limit. Naturally, the rationale is to protect a child who is too young for the class from being pushed into a class that he/she will not be able to keep up with developmentally.

Accordingly orders were passed by the division bench of the Delhi High Court to admit the child to this school. What makes the school’s stand against admitting the child even more puzzling is that the GNCTD counsel had stated to the court that, “the unaided schools which provided free and compulsory elementary education to the children belonging to weaker section and disadvantaged group in the neighbourhood, including the appellant school would be reimbursed the expenditure so incurred and that no prejudice would be caused to the appellant school by complying with the directions in the order under appeal”.

This case brings out a worrying feature of a lack of empathy shown by people who are in the business of providing guidance to children. Hopefully the High Court’s stand would have served as an education to the school authorities.

—Nayantara Roy

Lead picture: Delhi High Court

 

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