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RTE does not cover nursery, says court

New Delhi, Feb. 19 (PTI): Delhi High Court today held that the Right to Education Act, except the provision for 25 per cent reservation for the weaker sections, does not apply to nursery admissions in unaided private schools.

“The provisions of the act, except the admission to the extent of 25 per cent of the strength of the class to the children belonging to the weaker sections and disadvantaged group, do not apply to admissions made to the pre-elementary (pre-school and pre-primary) classes of such (private unaided) schools,” a bench of Chief Justice D. Murugesan and Justice V.K. Jain said.

The court, in its 33-page verdict, allowed the Centre’s plea that the RTE Act is applicable only to children between 6 and 14 years and that states were free to formulate policies to govern nursery admissions.

The ruling came on a PIL filed by an NGO challenging notifications issued by the HRD ministry and the Delhi government that allowed the schools to frame their own admission criteria.

The PIL alleged the notifications gave unaided private schools a free hand to decide nursery admission criteria based on categorisation on the grounds of religion, alumni and siblings although this was against the RTE Act.

The court today said: “We hold that the guidelines issued by the government of India and the order issued by the government of NCT of Delhi under the RTE Act do not apply to 75 per cent of the admission made to pre-elementary (pre-primary and pre-school) classes by private unaided schools, though they do apply to the remaining 25 per cent admissions made by such schools to such classes....”

The bench rejected the plea of Ashok Agarwal, the counsel for the NGO, that an “anomalous situation” would emerge as children would be subjected to screening if the RTE Act is not applied to nursery admissions.

It, however, asked the Centre to consider amending the Act to include nursery education as well, saying schools cannot be allowed to run as “teaching shops” as it would be “detrimental to equal opportunity to children”.

“It is the right time for the government to consider the applicability of Right to Education Act to the nursery classes as well, as in many of the states admissions are made right from the nursery classes and the children so admitted are automatically allowed to continue from Class I,” the judges said.

“In that sense, the provisions of Section 13 would be rendered meaningless insofar as it prohibits screening procedure at the time of selection.”

The court also said the NGO may make a representation to Delhi’s lieutenant governor seeking “amendments” in an earlier order of the department of education “to rule out any possible misuse of liberty given to the private unaided schools” in laying down criteria for admission to pre-primary and nursery classes.