New Delhi, Oct. 26: Nisha Kumari, a Class VIII student in Uttar Pradesh, has taken her school to court because it charges fees her father cannot afford.
The Dalit girl from Hathras district today petitioned Allahabad High Court to direct the government-run Girls’ Inter College in Sasni to stop charging her — or any other student — any fee till they reach Class IX.
Else, Nisha’s petition said, she may have to drop out of school because the annual fee of Rs 600 is too high for her father, who has four daughters to take care of.
But Nisha’s key contention is that by charging fees, the government school is violating the Right To Education Act, which gives every child the right to free schooling till Class VIII. (Private schools too are required to set aside 25 per cent of their seats for free education of poor and disadvantaged children.)
Nisha has demanded that her school refund the fees she has paid since the act came into force (on April 1, 2010).
The fees aren’t the only problem for girls like Nisha. Lawyer Ashok Agarwal, who filed the petition as a public interest litigation, told The Telegraph that many schools continue to discriminate against children from poor and disadvantaged sections in various ways.
A degree of caste bias was always prevalent in many rural government schools. Now, with the RTE Act forcing the 25 per cent free education quota on private schools — for which the government compensates them — the Union human resource development ministry is flooded with complaints that the quota children are being discriminated against.
Agarwal said many schools still charge tuition fees from these poor children.
The human resource development ministry today issued a set of guidelines to government and private schools to check such discrimination and asked the state governments and local authorities to ensure compliance.
Will these guidelines help solve the problem? Agarwal does not think so. He cited how the key matter of punishment has been left to the schools’ discretion.
“These guidelines are toothless. They do not prescribe any penal provisions for the offenders,” he said.
“The guidelines say the school will decide on complaints of discrimination within 60 days. That means the school may not take any penal action against the errant teachers or staff.”
Many private schools in New Delhi are refusing to let the poor and disadvantaged children study with their non-quota peers, Agarwal alleged. Classes are held by NGO activists, and not the school’s own teachers, for these children on the school premises in the evening when the other children have gone home.
Agarwal said Article 21A of the Constitution as well as the RTE Act say that every child aged 6 to 14 has a right to free and compulsory education in a neighbourhood school without any discrimination.