New Delhi: Chhaya and Kishan Sharma, parents of Gauri, 7, and Nitya, 3, wanted to give their daughters the best education possible. Unimpressed with local government schools, they identified three public schools in their north Delhi neighbourhood.
Sharma’s meagre income as an auto mechanic—about Rs4,500 a month—didn’t deter him from approaching the schools meant for children from more prosperous families.
With a certified income certificate, Sharma hoped a freeship norm mandating 25% reservation for children from the economically weaker sections, or EWS, would apply to his daughters.
Facing rejection: Rajiv Aggarwal with his son and wife. His son was denied admission by the school where his daughter already studies. Ramesh Pathania/Mint
So did Rajeev Aggarwal, a godown worker in Nangloi with a monthly salary of Rs4,200, who approached Sachdeva Public School in Pitampura for son Yash, hoping he would soon join sister Riya, a kindergarten student there.
The three schools Sharma applied to—Rukmini Devi Public School in Pitampura for his elder daughter’s admission in class III and Kulachi Hansraj Model School in Ashok Vihar and Sachdeva Public School in Pitampura for Nitya’s nursery admission—are among the 381 schools in Delhi that were allotted land at a concession by Delhi Development Authority (DDA, the agency responsible for urban housing) between 1990 and 2004. In turn, the schools are mandated to reserve seats for students from the EWS category under the freeship norm.
While the school approached for Gauri, about 2km from Sharma’s Trinagar home, denied him an admission form, saying it didn’t admit students from his locality, the other two schools rejected Nitya after interviewing her.
“I was turned away by both the schools. They refused to explain why my daughter was not admitted and did not even put up any admission list on their notice board,” Sharma says. In Aggarwal’s case, the school simply said the second child would not be admitted.
None of these schools responded to Mint’s queries.
Sharma’s younger daughter and Aggarwal’s son are at home. Gauri continues to study at a neighbourhood school that is not under the freeship norm and charges about Rs600 as tuition fees.
The count of schools defaulting on the 2004 provision to enable such children’s access to mainstream education is far bigger. As many as 133 out of 381 schools have failed to reserve the required 25% seats, and 33 others did not admit a single child from the EWS category, according to the action taken report of a parliamentary panel set up to review implementation of the norm. The report was submitted to Parliament last month.
“Schools were turning a blind eye to such children and grossly misusing the land,” says V.K. Malhotra, chairman of the panel and current leader of opposition in the Delhi legislature.
The government has done little to check this, the report says. The DDA has cancelled just one allotment from a 2006 list citing 178 defaulters. Besides, several societies that took land but failed to set up schools within two years moved court to seek extensions in 2006.
Ashok Agarwal, Delhi high court lawyer who has filed many lawsuits representing needy children against the government, says seeking intervention from courts has become a way for schools to circumvent the freeship scheme. “Till the court decides on it, (the schools) successfully stall any possible action,” he says.
Agarwal’s fears may be coming true. The latest report mentions the Delhi government and the Union urban development ministry’s argument that given the pending the cases in court, no action was possible, including the panel’s suggestion to amend the Delhi School Education Act to include penalty for defaulters. Public schools have also protested a provision in the Right to Education Bill, or RTE, that requires them to reserve at least 20% seats for children from weaker sections.
Arvinder Singh Lovely, education minister in the Delhi government, says while his department has proposed an amendment to the state’s education Act, he was waiting for the RTE Bill to get official nod. “This Act would make it binding on all schools across the country to admit students from EWS category,” he said, adding his state was the only one to notify the freeship norm.
Educationists fighting for these children attribute the lack of punitive action to conflicts of interest within the government. “The government tends to go weak in the knees when it comes to defaulters because there may be political affiliations... Clearly, the goal of social cohesion that such policies carry, suffers,” says Anita Rampal, professor of education at Delhi University, who also chairs the textbook development team of National Council of Educational Research and Training.
Schools on their part say they have scant financial resources to implement the scheme and have been asking the government to fund expenses. The 322 schools that provided data to the government, filled only around 8,000 of the 30,000 seats earmarked for EWS students last year.
In such a scenario, admission under the norm still remains a favour to Archana, mother of three-year-old Nishtha and married to a cosmetics shop owner in Sultanpuri. She has applied to Bosco Public School in neighbouring Sunder Vihar on 12 November and hopes the school will take her daughter.