The Supreme Court Tuesday upheld the constitutional validity of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act while also ruling that minority institutions were not obligated under it to reserve 25 per cent seats for the economically and socially weaker sections of society.
A five-judge Constitution bench led by Chief Justice R M Lodha said that the court’s 2010 verdict was “not correct” in so far as it held that even minority institutions, aided or unaided, had to reserve seats. The court said that such a compulsion on them would be “ultra vires” of the Constitution and will “abrogate” their right enshrined under the Constitution.
Also deciding on the validity of the Act on a legal challenge thrown by a bunch of private schools, the court ruled that Article 21A (right to education) and Article 15 (5) (relating to economically weaker sections) did not alter the basic structure or framework of the Constitution and they are hence “constitutionally valid”.
Article 15 (5) enables the State to make a special provision for the advancement of socially and educationally backward sections while Article 21A of the Constitution provides that the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children aged between six and 14.
The bench rejected the contention of non-minority private unaided educational institutions that the compulsory provision for reserving seats frustrated their efforts to strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity.
“The contention that excellence will be compromised by admission from amongst the backward classes of citizens and the SC and ST in private educational institutions is contrary to the Preamble of the Constitution which promises to secure to all citizens ‘fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation’,” it said.
The bench said that the goals of fraternity, unity and integrity of the nation cannot be achieved unless the backward classes of citizens and the SC and ST, who for historical factors, have not advanced, are integrated into the mainstream of the nation.