Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Education set to become your right

8 Aug 2008, 0016 hrs IST, Akshaya Mukul & Mahendra Kumar Singh,TNN
NEW DELHI: After a wait of more than four years and a lot of dithering and resistance from finance and law ministries, the Union Cabinet will finally take up the Right to Education Bill for consideration on Friday. The bill promises free and compulsory education to children between 6 and 14 years of age by making it a fundamental right.

The proposed enabling legislation, first mooted by the Kothari Commission in 1964 and later passionately argued for by former education minister M C Chagla, will come before the cabinet six years after the 86th Constitutional Amendment making free and compulsory education a fundamental right. Earlier, it was part of Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution.

The proposed bill is expected to be introduced in the Monsoon session of Parliament and is unlikely to meet any resistance since both NDA and Left have been demanding it for a long time. The constitutional amendment was done during the NDA regime but it would be notified only after the enabling bill becomes a law.

The right to education will cost the exchequer Rs 12,000 crore a year. Private unaided schools will also be in its ambit as the school will be required to reserve 25% of seats for poor children in the neighbourhood.

Parents to be part of school panel
To ensure that parents have equal stake in the system, the bill provides for school management committees in all government and aided schools. It would monitor and oversee the working of the school, manage its assets and ensure quality. There is also a provision that teacher vacancy should never exceed more than 10% of total strength.

To monitor the implementation of the law, the bill proposes a national commission for elementary education to be headed by a chairperson who would be appointed by a committee consisting of the PM, leaders of opposition in both houses, HRD minister and Lok Sabha Speaker.

In 2004, when UPA came to power, HRD ministry had asked a committee of the Central Advisory Board of Education headed by Kapil Sibal to do the costing of providing right to education. It had estimated that the RTE cost would hover between Rs 3,21,196 crore to Rs 4,36,458 crore. Government then developed cold feet on the project.

Later, PM Manmohan Singh set up a high level committee under HRD minister Arjun Singh and consisting of finance minister P Chidambaram, Planning Commission deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia and economic adviser to PM, C Rangarajan.

Looking at the cost involved, the committee after many meetings proposed that instead of a central law, state governments should enact their legislations to implement the constitutional obligation. Centre was only willing to provide a model bill. Unanimous protests by the states saw the PM swing into action again.

On its part, HRD ministry brought the cost down. One, it realized that already a large section of children in the age-group of 6-14 are covered under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Two, the ministry also studied child population figures and found that there is reverse growth in this age category. HRD brought the cost down to Rs 2,28,674 crore over six years. Still not convinced, finance ministry wanted further cost-cutting.