Article 21 A
State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine.
(Eighty Sixth amendment Act 2002 w.e.f. 01.04.2010)
In historical perspective it needs to be borne in mind that when India got independence, it was having more that 45% illiterate adult population of the world. In such darkness over the social-scape, universal adult suffrage was adopted by India, to nurture the democracy on the apparently tilted fulcrum of equality. Even today India continues to bear pain of having to host 70 million illiterate adults (beyond age of 15 years) population. Thus it is indeed not only the largest but also the darkest democracy of the world. Education is the only panacea for multiple ills infesting the dark corners of the Indian society.
Indian educational landscape is also afflicted by various critical socio-economic challenges and education is the solitary route to redemption from these trammels of doom.
As per published official data pertaining to 2014-2015, total number of schools, in all categories, in India are 15,16,865 (Primary 8,47,118 , Upper Primary 4,25,094 Secondary 1,35,335 Senior secondary 1,09,318) whereas the population of children entitled to school level education between age group of 4-19 constitute about 35% of population of the Country. Thus to accommodate about 40 Crores eligible candidates, the School population is grossly insufficient. Even the student teacher ratio, another parameter to test the quality of education, at primary school level in India is quite low in contrast with global standards. Apparently, the challenge to push the democracy out of the dark zones is indeed a Sisyphean task for the nation.
Constitution of India as adopted on 26th January 1950, placed the subject of Education in the State list. Belatedly in 1976, through 42nd constitutional amendment, the subject of education stood placed in Concurrent List.
The said 42nd Constitutional amendment ushered in a springtide in policy initiatives in the field of education across the ‘resource-crunched xeri-scapes of India. Thus the lackadaisical scenario, often isolated from a broad national and global outlook, broad and bright horizons emerged as transformative paradigms. The journey of human enlightenment through State education initiatives from pre-1976 xeriscaping to post-1976 landscaping, inspired hope and brought sunshine in the darker niches of Indian democracy. Now the Central government remains deeply engaged in their constitutional role in the field of Education.
Thus National Education Policy 1986 and the Programme of Action (POA) of 1986 as well as of 1992, in the path of education, are acknowledged as credible milestones set up by Central Government in discharge of its solemn constitutional obligations. To meet the challenges on this front, on 26 September 1985, an independent Ministry of Human Resource Development was established by the Central Government. The said Ministry has presently two departments, namely, (i) department of school education and (ii) department of higher education. With an object of fortifying and intensifying the efforts in this direction, in the year 1988 National Literacy mission Authority was set up as an independent and autonomous wing of ministry of HRD. The said Authority is obligated to carry out the various functions, including:
- Policy and planning
- Development and promotional activities
- Operational functions including assistance to voluntary agencies and other NGOs
- Technology demonstration
- Leadership training
- Resource development including media and materials Research and development
- Monitoring and evaluation
The other major initiatives taken by the Government during and post 11th Five year plan period, included micro-management of policy initiatives through launching of repeated and focused plans under the nomenclature of Abhiyaans (Missions). A Sarva Siksha Abhiyann was effectively launched in 2001 with an object of universalisation of primary education. The said Mission was launched in 1.1 million habitations across the country and targeted to cover 192 million children. Thereafter another mission Saakshar Bharat with an objective of attaining 80% literacy was launched in the year 2009. The said initiative, Saakshar Bharat has four broad objectives: (i) imparting functional literacy and numeracy to non-literates, (ii) acquiring equivalency to the formal education system, (iii) imparting relevant skill development programmes and (iv) promoting learning society by providing opportunities for continuing education. The progress in the field of education tossed up new challenges and thus Saakshar Bharat Mission 2012 and Saakshar Bharat Mission 2020, as deeper and broader initiatives in this direction were also launched.
The central Government with an object to accomplish the task of ‘literate India’ enacted ‘Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009, on 4th August 2009. The said Act was published in the Gazette on 27th August 2009. The said Act came into force w.e.f. 1st April 2010.
The Article 21A (Eighty Sixth amendment Act 2002 w.e.f. 01.04.2010) read with Article 51A (k) conjointly ensure that children between age of 6 to 14 do not remain deprived of their fundamental right to gain access to education.
The Article 21 A of Constitution of India traces its origin in the locus classicus in the reformative role of Supreme Court of India , pointedly articulated in Unni Krishnan v State of AP (1993 ) 1 SCC 645. The spirit, strength and reach of Article 21 A was elated by amended clause (k) to Article 51 A .
In Ashok Kumar Thakur v UOI (2008) 6 SCC 1, in a moment of clairvoyance, Supreme Court observed that that in the absence of Article 21 A, the other fundamental rights are rendered meaningless.
The luminous words of Justice V R Krishna Iyer in T N Education department etc. Assn. v State Of T N (1980)3 SCC 97 meaningfully resonate in the context of value and quality of education as a much-needed cathartic agent in human life. Hon’ble Judge observed: “The wisdom of yesterday may obsolesce into the folly of today, even as science of old may sour into the superstition now and vice versa.” The truism of education as a perennial process of internal enlightenment of an individual needs no further emphasis.
The fundamental right is restricted to primary, elementary as well as secondary education and not to higher education. (Bhartiya Sewa Samaj Trust v Yogesh Bhai Ambalal Patel) (2012) 9 SCC 310, (State of Maharashtra v Sant Deyaneshwar Sikshan Shastra Mahavidyalya ( 2006)9 SCC 1.
“Imparting elementary and basic education is a constitutional obligation on the States as well as societies running educational institutions. Children are not only future citizens but also the future of the Earth. Elders in general and parents and teachers in particular owe a responsibility for taking care of the well-being and welfare of the children.”
M.Y. Eqbal, J. in Major Saurabh Charan v. NCT of Delhi, (2014) 6 SCC 798, para 16
“Article 21-A has been added by amending our Constitution with a view to facilitate the children to get proper and good quality education. However, the quality of education would depend on various factors but the most relevant of them is excellence of teaching staff. In view thereof, quality of teaching staff cannot be compromised. The selection of the most suitable persons is essential in order to maintain excellence and the standard of teaching in the institution. It is not permissible for the State that while controlling the education it may impinge the standard of education. It is, in fact, for this reason that norms of admission in institutions have to be adhered to strictly. Admissions in mid academic sessions are not permitted to maintain the excellence of education.”
-Dr. B.S. Chauhan, J. in State of Orissa v. Mamata Mohanty, (2011) 3 SCC 436, para 34.
“The Government is on the right track with regard to improving the infrastructure of our system, books and buildings only go so far. They are necessary but not sufficient for achieving the ultimate goal of (1) keeping children in school, (2) ensuring that they learn how to think critically, and (3) ensuring that they learn skills that will help them secure gainful employment. When you lack a school building, teachers, books and proper facilities, your schooling might be ‘free’ but it is not an ‘education’ in any proper sense. Adequate number of schools must be established with proper infrastructure without further delay. In order to achieve the constitutional goal of free and compulsory education, we have to appreciate the reality on the ground. A sizeable section of the country is still so poor that many parents are compelled to send their children to work. The State must carve out innovative policies to ensure that parents send their children to school. The Mid-Day Meal Scheme will go a long way in achieving this goal. But, apart from mid-day meals, the Government should provide financial help to extremely poor parents. Ultimately, this is the most important aspect of implementing Article 21-A, incentives should be provided to parents so that they are persuaded to send their children to school. More than punishment, creative incentive programmes will go a long way in the implementation of the fundamental right enshrined under Article 21-A.”
Dr. Dalveer Bhandari, J. in Ashoka Kumar Thakur v. Union of India, (2008) 6 SCC 1, para 430
Having regard to the judicial views expressed by the Apex Court, from time to time, we need to evaluate the challenges, which face our institutions at this critical time when illiteracy is the worst feature in our demographic data.
“Quantum sumus scimus- What are we within? It is the most vital question which al the Institutions of a State are bound to raise, in a formalized and penetrative form, and answer, without frills, every moment, every day of the usual course of run of the Institutions, as well as at each and every turn of events. This question with the well-evaluated answers, can work in a long way to construct a much-needed purgatory in national contemplation to purify and cleanse the institutions of State- especially the institutions pertaining to the disciple of education.”