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Will Sheila Dixit back quota for poor in private schools?

Legally challenged in court and staring at a potential political confrontation with the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Admi Party (AAP), the Delhi Government will clarify its stand on reservation for poor children in private schools that were allotted land by the government, in the Delhi High Court today.

Following media reports last week that the Delhi government was going to re-introduce reservation for poor children in classes up to Class XII in private schools allotted land by the government, AAP was quick to slam the government for slashing the quota from the previously prevalent 20 percent to 15.

Before the Right to Education (RTE) Act became a reality in 2010, there was already a 20 percent EWS (economically weaker section) quota up to Class XII in Delhi schools that were allotted land by the government.

Reuters

Khagesh Jha, High Court advocate for the writ petition that has challenged the denial of admission to an EWS student by a school that has been allotted government land, says: “In April 2007, the Directorate of Education (DOE) issued a notification that laid down a 20 per cent quota for the poor up to Class XII in schools that were allotted government land. Subsequently, the RTE was enacted which introduced 25 per cent reservation for the poor. But it was limited at the entry level only, that is, at nursery or KG or Class I, depending on what level the school started at. Then in the following year, in 2011, the DOE issued a notification that the RTE Act superseded all previous orders by the government on reservation for the poor. The schools interpreted this as admissions for EWS being restricted to entry level alone. And they stopped admissions in higher classes.”

And thus, ironically, the year following the passage of RTE Act, another hard-fought government policy that fixed 20 per cent quota for poor in private schools allotted government land came to an abrupt end.

The government notification absolving private schools of their contractual duty was issued on 7 January, 2011.

Soon after, the denial of admission to a student from the EWS category to Class III by the Bal Bharti Public School, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital Marg, on the grounds that the land allotment clause no longer applied, was challenged by the parent. And on 24 September, the High Court gave the Delhi government eight weeks to respond.

(As per the DOE website, there are 394 schools in Delhi that have been allotted land by the government. Full list here)

Says Jha, “In denying the parent admission, Bal Bharti School said that the notification fixing 20 percent reservation in all classes for EWS had been superseded by the RTE and that they were now obliged to give admission only at the entry level class. Then we approached High Court on the grounds that that Delhi Government had no authority to supersede any obligation that comes from the land allotment clause. The court agreed and on 24 September directed the Delhi government to come up with a policy decision on how the contractual obligation of these schools could be complied with. The DOE has to file an affidavit after an appropriate policy decision.”

Putting pressure on the government not to climb down from the original quota of 20 percent, the Aam Admi Party (AAP) has said that if the government reduces this number to 15 percent – as reported by the Times of India on 29 November – it will make it an election issue.

Senior lawyer and the latest member of AAP’s national executive Ashok Aggarwal says, “We have to hit government from a different platform and make it an election issue. That will hit the government harder.” Aggarwal was instrumental in filing the series of PILs that led to the EWS quota in private schools in Delhi.

On Tuesday, the government will file its affidavit based on the Delhi government’s policy on the matter. Jha says he is optimistic.

He adds: “Outcome of this writ petition is really very important. It will also stop various devices being used by the private schools to reduce the number of seats at the entry level. Those devices that are being used to defeat the provisions of the RTE will also be controlled.”

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