This is the second of a five part series that aims to understand the process of nursery admissions in Delhi and annual struggles associated with it.
“They[private schools] will have no better government than this one if they want to do good things but they will also not found any worse government if they indulge in irregularities,” – Arvind Kejriwal
“There was tremendous pressure from different quarters including the private schools to maintain the management quota. But we will not bow down to pressure,” – Manish Sisodia
These words by the Delhi Chief Minister and Deputy Chief minister tells us just how serious the AAP government is to tackle the so called irregularities in the pre-primary admission process. The chaos that surrounds the nursery admissions effects a lot of people with a wide number of stakeholders in the matter. It is important to understand the impact that the law has on this issue, and consequently on all the stakeholders involved.
The legal controversy over the nursery admissions has been going on since 2004 when Rakesh Agarwal, an aggrieved parent, filed a PIL over the discriminatory practices adopted by private, unaided schools during nursery admissions. After hearing the case, the court set up a committee under the chairmanship of Shri Ashok Ganguly to look into this matter and to come up with recommendations for the same. The court directed the committee to suggest recommendations for schools to adopt while admitting students in the pre-primary stage, keeping in mind three core values, namely no interviews to be conducted for kids at the time of admission, minimisation of the discretionary powers of the school management and total transparency in the admission system. The infamous 100 point matrix system that has been the subject of much debate over the recent years was a brainchild of this Ganguly committe. A detailed analysis of the report submitted by the committee yields the following salient recommendations:
- Schools shall completely eliminate interview of and interaction with children and parents.
- There would be no overall lottery system adopted to select/short list children for admission. Limited use of lottery system would be adopted at the last stage to break any tie.
- A common admission procedure with a standardized registration form and time schedule shall be followed by all the schools.
- A hundred point matrix for calculation of weightage for different criteria as detailed below shall be followed by schools.
- It had recommended that 10% of the total seats may be allotted to the discretion of the management.
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The Conflict and Revision
This development did not go down well with the private, unaided schools and the Ganguly Committee Guidelines were challenged in the court by the Action Committee Unaided Recognized Private Schools, an organization consisting of more than 400 private unaided recognised schools functioning in Delhi. After hearing their grievances, the court ordered the committee to take into consideration the recommendations of these schools and to fine tune the guidelines. Four main bodies – the Forum for Promotion of Quality Education for All, the Action Committee of Unaided Recognized Private Schools, the Principal, Sardar Patel Public School, Aya Nagar, New Delhi, and the Directorate of Education, Government of NCT of Delhi, forwarded their recommendations and feedback.
The committee felt that there was a need to get additional feedback and so for this purpose a questionnaire was devised and sent to private schools of Delhi enquiring whether they had experienced any difficulties in implementing the new criteria and norms for nursery admissions. The Committee also sought their suggestions for moderating the norms. Besides this, the committee held a number of formal and informal meetings with principals of private schools, and those who have been actively associated with the issue at hand. Shri Ashok Agarwal, a senior advocate and activist was also invited for a formal interaction in order to get an outside overview of the problem. After taking into account everyone’s opinions, the committee concluded that they did not need to make any major alterations in their guidelines or come up with an altogether new methodology. They simply had to fine tune their earlier guidelines. The Committee also listed down the following recommendations that they felt needed no modification. They are as follows:
- The admission process should promote diversity of student population in terms of home background, socio-economic status, professions of parents and at the same time preserve gender parity.
- Schools shall completely eliminate interview of or interaction with children.
- Formal interaction with parents will be carried out only after the list of selected children is displayed.
- Schools shall ensure transparency in all matters relating to admission to the nursery class.
- The seats left to the discretion of the management of a school shall not exceed 10% of the total seats.
- There would be no overall lottery system to select/shortlist children for admission.
Having said that the committee went ahead to modify their 100 point scale and came up with the following matrix:
These were the guidelines that schools followed while retaining the liberty with certain criterion like management, staff, etc. However, in February, 2013, the Lt. Governor of Delhi, Najeeb Jung came out with an executive order scrapping the management quota and allotting 70 points to neighbourhood in the 100 point matrix. All private schools around Delhi went berserk for they felt that this was a breach of their autonomy and moved to court. After hearing multiple petitions, and passing verdicts which didn’t go well with the schools, the court held that the schools have a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India to establish, run and administer their schools and this included the right to admit students. The court also expressly stated that the scope of reasonable restriction under Article 19(6) of the Constitution is confined to ensuing the maintenance of proper academic standards, atmosphere, infrastructure, prevention of maladministration by those in charge of the management and it does not extend to taking away the right to regulate admissions in the school. In the view of the Court any such restriction under this article can only be imposed by the way of a law and not by the way of an executive order. Using this reasoning the court quashed the Lt. Governors order in a November, 2014 judgementand the autonomy of the schools was restored.
The AAP Intervention
Unfortunately for the private schools in Delhi, this relief was short – lived and their autonomy was called into question again when the AAP Government, in a seemingly bold move, scrapped off 62 reservation criteria adopted by them including the management quota in an order dated 6th January, 2016. Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal claimed that his government’s trust was “betrayed” by the schools, forcing them to take such a drastic step. The AAP government had asked the schools to submit the admission criteria to the education department by the 31st of December, 2015 for review. However, according to Kejriwal, officials were shocked after seeing some of the criteria submitted by the schools. He called them arbitrary and unfair and therefore, a mere 6 days later his government released the order scrapping offthese criteria. This decision was not well taken by the management of the schools who feel that this is a direct attack on their autonomy. Contrary to this, the Delhi Chief Minister claims that this is not to compromise the autonomy of schools but to free up more seats for the public. “We scrapped management quota. It was being misused by politicians, government functionaries and powerful people,” he said while interacting with a number of parents seeking admission for their respective wards. In spite of all that the Delhi CM has said to justify his government’s actions, private schools in Delhi have filed two petitions in the Delhi High Court challenging this order. Furthermore, the Action Committee of Unaided Recognized Private Schools, also moved to the high court stating that they are “aggrieved by the absolutely illegal, arbitrary, whimsical and unconstitutional order” issued by Delhi government’s Directorate of Education (DoE).
The Delhi High Court after hearing the matter told the AAP government to “Set its house in order” by trying to improve the condition of the public schools rather than trying to take over the private ones. The court did not seem particularly in favour of the order passed by the AAP government scrapping of 62 reservation criteria maintaining that the government cannot take away the autonomy of private schools, especially by an office order which has not been passed under any statutory provision. However, implementation of some quotas like the quotas for children whose parents were vegetarians, non-smokers or non-alcoholic, the court held amounts to maladministration. The High Court clarified that parents can still apply under the 62 reservation criteria that the government order aimed to strike off but “scrutiny of applications would be subject to final orders”. The court has directed the government to file its response in a week and listed the matter for hearing on January 28th.
The procedure to be adopted for nursery admissions has always been under fire with all three wings of the Indian democracy vehemently participating in the modification of the same, be it executive orders, court decisions or the most recent, government orders. Since the very inception of this legal problem in 2004, the contentious process has been a tug of war for greater control. While the private schools are engaged in this to retain their autonomy and discretion, the government and the executive have tried to decrease this in order to tackle the growing sense of discrimination and arbitrariness that has crept into the admission procedure at the pre-primary stage. Even as of now, with multiple petitions pending in court there is no surety whether the AAP Government’s order will stand. The High Court while hearing the matter duly pointed out that the government is trying to act at the last, possible moment. Indeed, a statute of more permanent nature, that is agreed upon by all stakeholders, is brought to force regarding instead of coming out with office orders of short life span, confusion can be avoided in the future.
Part 1: Of Nursery Admissions: Forms, Confusion and Chaos
Part 3: Of Nursery Admissions: Privilege & Diversity in Schools
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