The admirably and painstakingly crafted Constitution of India is unambiguous that the obligation of providing free and compulsory education to all children is of the State (i.e Central and state governments). It is also unambiguous that all citizens have the fundamental right to practice any profession, or carry on any occupation, trade or business (Article 19 (1) (g)) which common sense says includes the right to establish and administer private schools of their choice with minimal interference from government. However under the communist-inspired socio-economic development model imposed upon the nation by the Congress party and prime minister Nehru in particular, the constitutional rights of citizens — including the right to promote and manage education institutions — have been continuously whittled down. In the 1970s, prime minister Indira Gandhi publicly proclaimed the government’s intent to pack the judiciary with judges committed to socialist ideology. And over the past decades, ideologically committed and/or confused judges of the Supreme Court have persistently ruled that education provision is compulsorily a charitable vocation, and as such rigid control of private schools and institutions by government is justified.
The fallout of the ideologically prejudiced verdicts of the apex court is visible across the country’s scarred and chaotic education landscape. Instead of focusing their attention on improving and upgrading the country’s 1.25 million decrepit government K-12 schools, 11,000 colleges and 478 universities, the massive education bureaucracy is preoccupied with controlling and regulating private schools and colleges which by common consensus provide vastly superior education. Moreover encouraged by high judicial pronouncements, for the first time, under s. 12 (1) (c) the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act), the State has outsourced part of its obligation to provide free and compulsory education to children to private sector primaries, even if they are wholly financially independent.
Belatedly, the winds of liberalisation are blowing through the musty corridors of India’s legal system. In the historic T.M.A Pai Foundation (2002) and P.A. Inamdar (2005) cases, the Supreme Court restored the right of private unaided education institutions to prescribe their own admission systems (subject to their being transparent and merit-based) and determine their own tuition fees (provided they are ‘reasonable’). But even these landmark verdicts reiterated that education provision is essentially a charitable vocation. The result is a flurry of writ petitions and litigation which has introduced uncertainty into the education sector and inflated entry costs. Fed up with constant harassment and interference from venal education officials and inspectors, private schools countrywide are rallying to the call of Jaipur-based educationist Damodar Goyal, convenor of the National Foundation for the Promotion and Protection of Private Education (NFPPPE). Our cover story in this issue outlines the motivation behind the promotion of NFPPPE and its aims and objectives.
And if proof is needed of the harmful effects of ill-considered government intervention in education, read our special report feature on the mess in medical education. It provides ample evidence of outcomes when fools rush in where angels fear to tread.