Quota removal, an ill-timed move

In principle, the Arvind Kejriwal government’s decision to scrap the management quota in nursery admissions in Delhi’s private unaided schools is welcome. As the chief minister put it himself, the 20 per cent quota is a scandal. It allows private schools to dish out favours – admitting a child to please a neta or to keep the local SHO in good humour – at the expense of the less-connected parent. For a government which likes to swear by transparency, it is only the right thing to do. But the cabinet decision couldn’t have been timed worse. The admission process has already begun, and all application forms are supposed to be in by January 22. Only on December 8, while announcing the start of admissions from January 1, the government had pointedly given private schools a free hand in framing guidelines on admissions – as long as they made public the criteria by which they planned to give ‘points’ to aspiring students. Barely a month later, the rules have been changed. Not only is the management quota gone, weightage cannot be given now to 62 criteria, found objectionable by the Education Department when it went through guidelines submitted by the schools.

The U-turn spells confusion. In 2013, when Lieutenant-Governor Najeeb Jung came out with a set of guidelines – also scrapping the management quota and giving 70 out of 100 points to the distance-from-home criterion – there was a flurry of litigation. Parents faced a harrowing time, before the courts let the management quota stay that year, though the issue is far from settled. Admissions were horribly delayed, and classes began in July instead of April. It would be shameful if 2013-2014 is repeated this time.

Kejriwal must explain why his cabinet took so long to come up with a clear policy on nursery admissions. The declaration on management quota should have come weeks or even months earlier, particularly, as one interpretation goes, the matter is still sub judice.

This would have allowed the matter to be thrashed out in court before admissions opened. And schools could have been told at least on December 8 about the criteria which the government was later to find ‘discriminatory’ – like giving points to girl students or parents’ education. The apparently sudden change in policy has invited the allegation that the Aam Aadmi Party government is trying to punish private schools for lack of enthusiasm in making their buses available for commuters leaving their cars at home during the odd-even trial. No one can tell for sure. But if the charge sticks, the Kejriwal government has only itself to blame.

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