SC bench to rule on seats for poor in private schools

Matter relates to reservation in unaided institutions

A constitutional bench of the Supreme Court will now hear the challenge to Article 15(5) of the Constitution, which places an obligation on unaided private schools to reserve 25 per cent seats for students from socially and economically weaker sections of society.

The provision, under the Right to Education Act (RTE), was challenged by managements of private schools in various states. Hearing the plea, the apex court Bench of Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra on Friday directed court registry to place the matter before the Chief Justice for listing before an appropriate bench.

The directive was made after a submission by Pramati Educational and Cultural Trust and others, that a larger bench hear the matter in view of the court’s earlier September 6, 2010 order. Hearing a petition by the Society for Unaided Schools of Rajasthan, the apex court bench of Chief Justice S H Kapadia (since retired), Justice K S Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatanter Kumar had said: “Since the challenge involved raises the question as to the validity of Articles 15(5) and 21-A of the Constitution of India, we are of the view that the matter needs to be referred to the constitution bench of five judges.”

The apex court on October 8, 2012, issued notice to the Centre on a petition that sought equal status for unaided educational institutions at par with unaided minority institutions in reserving 25 per cent seats for socially and economically backward sections.

The petition contended that Article 15 (5) was ultra vires of the basic structure of the Constitution as it discriminates between two similarly placed category of educational institutions on the basis of their minority and non-minority status.

Clause 5 of the Article 15 says “(5) Nothing in this Article or in sub-clause (g) of clause (1) of Article 19 shall prevent the State from making any special provision, by law, for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes insofar as such special provisions relate to their admission to educational institutions including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the State, other than the minority educational institutions referred to in clause (1) of Article 30.”

The petition has also contested the validity of the Article 21-A which says that “the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine.”

Seeking the examination of the power of Article 15(5), the petition has said that the Constitution envisages equal status for minority and majority, and it would be against the scheme of the Constitution to put minority on a higher pedestal.

The petition said that Article 30, which provides for the right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions, was in the nature of protecting their rights and did not confer any right beyond the those available to non-minorities (majority community).

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