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Clauses dilute school bill penal provisions

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By CHARU SUDAN KASTURI in Delhi
  • Published 24.07.09
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New Delhi, July 23: Citizens will need the permission of a government-authorised official to seek prosecution of schools that charge capitation fees or conduct admission screening in violation of the proposed right to education law, according to the bill passed by the Rajya Sabha.

Also the central government, states and school officials cannot be prosecuted for violations of the proposed law if they violate it in “good faith”, says the bill that is scheduled to be tabled in the Lok Sabha.

Two controversial paragraphs towards the end of the path-breaking legislation are threatening to dilute its very aim: make primary schooling a right every child and parent can legally demand from the government.

The bill also bans schools from collecting capitation fees or holding screening procedures while admitting students. A sub-section details the punishment for these crimes — a fine 10 times the capitation fee charged, Rs 25,000 for the first complaint of an admission test and Rs 50,000 subsequently.

Other sub-sections outline the fine on schools that run without government recognition. The fine for starting a school without recognition is Rs 1 lakh and an additional fine of Rs 10,000 per day is listed for continuing without recognition.

But Section 36 towards the end of the bill specifies that prosecution — for charging capitation fees, conducting admission screening and running a school without recognition — will be allowed only conditionally.

“No prosecution for (these) offences… shall be instituted except with the previous sanction of an officer authorised in this behalf, by the appropriate government, by notification,” Section 36 states.

Human resource development ministry sources confirmed that the section means that unless the authorised officer sanctions prosecution, no legal action can be taken against errant schools.

Section 37 goes further. It protects the Centre, the states, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and its state equivalents, the local government and school authorities from legal action if they violate the bill in “good faith”.

“No suit or other legal proceedings shall lie against the central government, the state government, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, the local authority, the school management committee or any person, in respect of anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done, in pursuance of this act, or any rules or order made thereunder,” this section says.

The bill does not define what constitutes “good faith”.

HRD ministry sources contended that Section 37 is aimed at protecting “well-meaning” officials from abuse of the law and from private schools that want to challenge any action taken against them.

Section 36 is also aimed at regulating the amount of legal cases that could pile up in courts to ensure that frivolous cases do not clog the path of legitimate violations, the sources said.

But these sections dilute the effectiveness of the law, allowing the government — and not parents or students — to pick and choose whom to act against legally, said educationist Anil Sadagopal.

“So, a teacher who slaps a student can get away technically by arguing that it was done in good faith, to help the child improve,” Sadagopal said.

The government could similarly say that it did not meet the student-teacher ratio required under the law, because it would have needed to hire sub-standard teachers, he said as an example.

In response to The Telegraph’s queries, Child Rights and You (CRY) today evening also issued a statement expressing concerns that Sections 36 and 37 could prove a “double-edged sword”.

“In view of the possible contravention of the law, CRY demands that the right to take the government to court rest with citizens, as is usual for other similar contravention through legal procedures such as a Public Interest Litigation,” CRY said in its statement.

Though the Bill has been passed in the Rajya Sabha, it can be withdrawn or put on hold by the government. The Speaker can also refer the bill to a panel of experts or to a parliamentary standing committee, if necessary, for suggesting changes.