On January 27, while hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking enforcement of the Right to Education (RTE) Act for notified minorities, a bench of Justices K M Joseph and B V Nagarathna asserted that when it comes to a matter like the right to education, emphasis should not be given wholly to religious minorities.
Hearing the PIL filed in the case of Mohammad Imran Ahmed and others vs. the central government and others, according to LiveLaw, the bench also observed orally that religion is important when it is relevant and vital to the subject matter, only when it is legally required. Otherwise, we are secular nation, and everything we do must reflect that spirit. Both, citizens as well as the state.
The petition sought enforcement of Section 12(1) c of the RTE Act, underlining the problem of the discontinuation of the pre-matric scholarship initiative for minorities. The clause requires non-minority private unaided schools to reserve at least 25% of their entry-level seats for students from the weaker sections of society.
During the hearing, the Court asked the petitioner as to why he had taken up the cause of minority communities exclusively. “The difficulty is that they have provided a list of 18 states that have admitted children under Section 12 (1) c. There are 29 of us. That means it isn’t fully implemented,” the advocate representing the petitioner had outlined. To this, the Bench had inquired as to what exactly the advocate meant by the term “weaker sections”. The Bench had further asked for a definition providing the same to substantiate the exclusion of the majority community. “Are you only supporting minorities by ignoring the majority? Why have you given special emphasis solely to minorities?” the bench asked, as stated by the Bar and Bench.
“Your plea is for getting the benefit for the minority community. We have no problem with that”, the Bench had observed, as provided by the LiveLaw. The bench then added that the plea filed refers to Muslims and Christians, which gets limitedto the minority community alone. Members of all communities belonging to the weaker sections should get the benefit, as was stated by the bench.
The petitioners argued that because of the financial problems faced by the six notified minority communities, as well as the educational disadvantages they confront, the respondents should be obligated to apply the RTE Act. The advocate believed that non-implementation would have a greater impact on children from minority backgrounds. The bench observed that the prayers addressed religious minorities in all states. “The benefit will flow down to religious minorities if the section is adopted,” the advocate clarified. Advocate Ayush Negi, appearing for the petitioners, also added that the said section 12(1)(c) applies to all and the petition is only seeking its enforcement. Justice Nagarathna remarked that the same was not reflected in the plea.
The Advocate representing the petitioners then went on to say that minorities have also benefited from the Act’s provisions and thus, it should not be interpreted religiously. “I’ll revise the application and submit it”, he then stated. At this point, the court allowed the petitioners to withdraw their plea and resubmit with amended pleadings.
Background of the discontinuation of Pre-Metric Scholarship
In November 2022, the government stated that since RTE includes compulsory education up to Class 8th for all students, they will be restricting its pre-matric scholarship scheme for backward and minority communities to students in Class 9 and Class 10. Previously, the pre-matric scholarship used to cover education for Class 1 to 8students,belonging to SC, ST, OBC and minority communities.
The government justified its decision in a notification, stating that the Right to Education (RTE) Act of 2009 requires the government to provide free and compulsory primary education (Classes 1–8) to all children.
“As a result, only students in Classes 9 and 10 are eligible for the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment’s and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs’ Pre-Matric Scholarship Scheme. Similarly, coverage under the Ministry of Minority Affairs’ pre-matric scholarship scheme will be limited to Classes 9 and 10 beginning in 2022-23” The notice had stated.
The Institute Nodal Officer (INO)/District Nodal Officer (DNO)/State Nodal Officer (SNO) had been mandated to assess applications solely for Classes 9 and 10 under the Ministry of Minority Affairs’ Pre-Matric Scholarship Scheme. The decision had drawn a sharp reaction from political parties and others.