FOR A week now, Santosh Kesharwani, a homemaker, has been making the rounds of a school in Juhu for the admission of her six-year-old daughter, but in vain. Last week, her daughter was allotted a seat for Class I in the school under the Right to Education (RTE) Act but the school has been refusing to admit any students until the government compensates them for the previous years.
A tussle between the state government and unaided schools has left thousands of children who are eligible for free education in the lurch this year. As the schools fight the government over pending aid for having admitted students under the RTE Act, children allotted seats are now being rejected by protesting schools.
So far, only 1,299 children have been admitted, less than half of those allotted seats in the first round of lottery on March 13. In the first round, 3,239 applicants were allotted seats reserved under the RTE Act for children from economically weaker sections. They had to complete their admissions by March 24 but parents are now in a fix as unaided schools have announced a boycott.
“The school told me that unless the government pays them for their expenses, my daughter won’t be admitted. We are not sure if the admission will go through. There’s no uncertainty and with no fault of ours,” said Santosh. Her husband is a fruit seller and can’t afford to send their daughter to a private school.
The unaided schools, which had announced a boycott ahead of the admission season, have held their ground. SC Kedia, secretary, Unaided Schools Forum, said, “The government hasn’t paid us our dues over the past five years. Schools have been admitting students to the RTE quota but haven’t been compensated even as the Act specifies that the schools are to be paid. This is our only recourse.”
On Saturday, the forum wrote to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis highlighting the difficulties the schools face without the financial aid. Kedia said that schools would continue their boycott until their demands are met. A case filed by the forum before the Aurangabad bench of the High Court is expected to be heard on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, parents are seeking help from non-government organisations. “We have been flooded with complaints from parents that schools have refused to admit their children. Within a week, we will mobilise the parents and file petitions with the Bombay High Court. The schools can’t hold parents and students at ransom to get their demands met,” said Sudhir Paranjape, an RTE activist.
The government, however, may take action against schools refusing to admit students. Nand Kumar, principal secretary for school education, told The Indian Express, “Nobody is allowed to break the law. Lawbreakers will face consequences.”
Even as the Forum claimed that the dues were to the tune of Rs 500-600 crore, Kumar said that the government owes around Rs 130 crore to schools for expenses until last year. “This amount will be cleared this year,” said Kumar.
Meanwhile, the education department of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, which conducts the admission on behalf of the government, has extended the deadline for confirming admissions in the first lottery to April 4.