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Turning a blind eye to discrimination towards impoverished people in schools

By Venkatesh Nayak*
The print media has been reporting serious lapses in the implementation of the Right to Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act) over the last few months. A major problem is the reluctance of some State Governments and elite schools to fulfill the obligations towards students belonging to economically weaker sections (EWS) of society. Pls see detailed articles on this subject published in “Outlook” and The Economic and Political Weekly (EPW):
1) http://www.outlookindia.com/article/Colour-Coded-Discrimination/291806. A copy of this article was attached to my RTI application as proof of information available in the public domain about discrimination against economically weaker sections (EWS) children.
2) http://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/2014_49/38/Quotas_under_the_Right_to_Education.pdf.
After reading these articles I filed a right to information (RTI) application with the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MoHRD). Initially the MoHRD transferred my RTI application internally and then fell silent. So I filed a first appeal. The First Appellate Authority ordered disclosure of all information. Now the public information officer (PIO) has replied with some information.
The main findings in the RTI reply are:
It looks like the MoHRD simply does not monitor the implementation of the RTE Act regarding EWS entitlements. They do not have any complaints in their files about discrimination against EWS children. They have passed the buck to the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and SCPCRs (State Commissions) / RTE Protection Authority (REPAs) and do not even bother to collect data about how they are addressing complaints about discrimination.
After all under the Allocation of Business Rules, the RTE Act falls under the MoHRD’s charge. They cannot simply send money for implementing the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and mid-day meal scheme and then not monitor how schools and States are implementing the RTE Act. Interestingly, the MoHRD gave a similar reply to a query raised in Parliament last month.
The reply to my second query in the RTI application shows that MoHRD does not even bother to take action suo motu when they read reports of the kind published in EPW and Outlook about discrimination against EWS children. They have simply transferred the responsibility to the monitoring bodies.
I can understand they may not be able to handle every complaint, but when investigative reporting is showing that an entire state like Uttar Pradesh is violating EWS clauses, is it not reasonable to expect that they should take some action on this issue? Instead the MoHRD seem to be busy trying to organise events to mark good governance day on December 25, 2014.
Without getting into the politics of it, I must say good governance is not only to be commemorated, but also practiced. The MoHRD must do this by properly monitoring the implementation of the RTE Act. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) promised “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”. Today, the educational sector is one of the major arenas where inclusion needs to be ensured. Inclusion is not merely permitting children from EWS sections of society to attend classes, but also participate in all activities to which other children from well off families have access.
By turning a blind eye to discriminatory practices in schools, the MoHRD will only create entire generations of people who will learn to treat the impoverished with contempt. It is important to ensure that all State Governments and schools act in a manner that will ensure the realisation of the constitutional vision of equality, justice and fraternity contained in the Preamble of our Constitution.

*Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi

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