The fate of a child’s education can’t be “relegated to only his/her position on a map”, The Delhi High Court observed on Tuesday, staying the AAP government’s nursery admission notification with neighbourhood as the sole criteria.
Justice Manmohan, in an interim order, found that the notification spelling neighbourhood as a criteria to be “restrictive and unreasonable” since it compelled 298 private schools, built on public land, to apply it in the national capital for the 2017-18 academic session.
The court pointed out that if neighbourhood is allowed as the sole criteria as per the directorate of education’s (DoE’s) order, the right of parents and their children to apply to a school of their choice would be “an empty formality”.
There was “potential for abuse” of the condition as many rich parents would either shift to areas close to the school or would get “sham” rent receipts or documents from owners or relatives and friends, Justice Manmohan noted, adding that no mechanism to curb or examine the possibility of abuse was provided in the notification.
‘Public interest cannot be limited to just 298 schools on DDA land’
By its notification, the government completely took away from private unaided schools the right to admit students and the right to lay down a fair, reasonable, transparent and non-exploitative procedure/criteria for admissions, leaving them with no say in their admissions, the high court observed, holding that the government’s order can’t be seen as a “reasonable restriction” on the fundamental right of schools.
HC also faulted the government on its decision to impose the neighbourhood restriction to only those schools that are built on Delhi Development Authority (DDA) land, saying, “Public interest cannot be confined to 298 schools” and not the other 1,400-odd schools.
On the government’s argument that its notification adhered to the Right to Education Act, the court reminded that Section 12(1)(c) of the act fixes the extent of responsibility of a private unaided school for admission from the neighbourhood to only 25%, and that too for the weaker sections, “leaving free the remaining 75% seats to be filled up by the school with children living within or outside its neighbourhood”.
It said the primary cause of the nursery admission chaos is the “lack of adequate number of good quality public schools and uneven distribution of good private unaided schools” in Delhi, and this, coupled with the high population density of the city, results in seats being “exhausted” on the immediate distance criteria of 0-3km where private schools on DDA land are concerned.
The HC’s order came on petitions filed by two school bodies – the Action Committee of Unaided Recognised Private Schools and the Forum for Promotion of Quality Education, along with a few parents, to challenge the guidelines.
The DoE notification gave priority to students living within a radius of one km from the school concerned. In case the seats remain vacant, those living within a distance of 3km would have got the chance for admission.