Toward a Right to Education in India


It was a Saturday afternoon, and everyone else seemed to be enjoying their weekend, except for me, who was serving lunch to visitors at my master’s apartment. Laughter and conversation could be heard from every room in the house. That didn’t matter to me, because I had to be ready to meet any and all requests made by the guests or the master himself, depending on who was speaking. A bunch of folks were spouting off about their children’s accomplishments in 2009, and I was just seven at the time, dressed in a sweater and a half-pant. Right to Education Act was about to be passed into law when an elderly man read in a magazine that the government was considering doing so. These everyday discussions about household chores made more sense to me because I couldn’t read or understand the high-level debate that had taken the focus off of their children; on top of that, I had no idea what the word ‘right,’ even in its most basic sense, meant. That old man remarked something along the lines of…
The Act’s History:

When India’s 86th Amendment deemed education a fundamental right, the government’s first effort was the Free and Compulsory Education Bill 2003, which was the first comprehensive legislation on education. An exemplary example of bureaucratic empowerment, the Bill created up to six tiers of diverse bodies to secure the provision of free and compulsory education. For the sake of reviving the previous license-permit system, up to 25% of private school seats were reserved for pupils from the poorest families, who would be picked by these authorities. The Bill was scrapped after receiving substantial criticism.

It is the central government’s second attempt to correct the educational system with the Right to Education Bill 2005 Some of the Bill’s most essential provisions:

Children aged 6 to 14 will be guaranteed free and compulsory education up to the primary level under this plan.

Reserves up to 25% of places in unaided private schools for children from economically disadvantaged groups. If the real school fee or per-student spending in the government school is lower, then the schools will be refunded. A minimum of 25% of the admitted students will be held back by aided institutions, who are required to reserve “at least that proportion of their admitted children as its yearly recurring aid bears to its annual recurring expenses.”

To ensure that all kids can attend a school in their own neighbourhood within three years of the bill’s adoption, new government schools must be opened to serve the remaining students.

• Establishes School Management Committees (SMCs) made up of parents and teachers in public and private schools. The SMCs will own the school’s assets, manage its finances, and pay its employees.

For the first time, there will be a National Commission for Elementary Education to monitor the implementation of the Bill, State Regulatory Agencies to address grievances under the Bill and several “empowered” authorities to carry out a wide range of regulatory functions and punish those who fail to meet their obligations.

• Creates a school-based teacher cadre by assigning all state school teachers to specific schools from which they will never be transferred.

The bill was rejected by the finance and planning committees due to a lack of funding, and a model bill was forwarded to the states for implementation.


As can be seen, achieving universal access to basic education remains a pipe dream even after 60 years. In spite of high enrolment rates of about 95 percent, 52.8 percent of children in 5th grade lack the reading skills required in 2nd grade, according to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER 2009). By the 86th Amendment to the Constitution, Article 21 stated that free and obligatory elementary education was a fundamental right. The ‘Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill’ was drafted in 2005 as a way to implement this. In August 2009, this was updated and became an Act, but it wasn’t made public for about seven months.

Financial negotiations between the National University of Education Planning and Administration, NUEPA, and the Planning Commission and Ministry of Human Resource and Development, which are responsible for calculating RTE funds, are largely to blame for the delay in notification (MHRD). RTE Draft Bill 2005 was estimated to cost an additional Rs.3.2 trillion to Rs.4.4 trillion over the course of the six-year implementation period (Central Advisory Board of Education, CABE) by NUEPA. For context, Rs.1 trillion represents 1.8 percent of the GDP of India for the entire year.

That’s not enough, according to most education experts. As education is under the concurrent list of the Constitution, Central and State authorities have to work out a financial agreement to divide the costs. Despite this agreement, state governments continue to contend that their share should be smaller than 35:65 between states and the federal government.