New Delhi: Sixteen years after the Supreme Court ruled that elementary education should be made a fundamental right, the Rajya Sabha on Monday passed legislation to provide free and compulsory education to every child in the age group of 6-14 years and from class I to VIII.

It also fixed responsibility on schools to reserve at least 25% of their seats for children from the weaker and disadvantaged sections, specified by the government as those from scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and educationally or economically backward classes. The Bill also proposes to ban capitation fees, admission interviews and private tuition.

Education for all: Students at a school in Faridabad. The Bill has fixed responsibility on schools to reserve at least 25% of their seats for children from the weaker and disadvantaged sections. Rajkumar / Mint

Private schools, which have been against any such reservation of seats citing scant financial resources, would also have to set aside at least 25% of the seats in class I, with the government making up for the fee shortfall. The Bill doesn’t clearly state if the Union or state governments would reimburse the fees. Schools receiving financial aid, land or buildings at concessional rates from the government would not be reimbursed.

“Technically, the Bill, when enacted, would give two things: the right to every child for free and compulsory education, and the government to provide it," human resource development minister Kapil Sibal said, replying to the debate on the Bill.

Debated for at least six years, the latest legislation—still to be tabled in the Lok Sabha—is similar to the draft Bill of 2005, which proposed that the government raise the quality of its own schools at a cost of Rs1.51 trillion over five years.

Ashok Agarwal, a Delhi high court lawyer who has filed many lawsuits against the government representing needy children, says the Bill focuses too much on inputs and too little on outcomes.

(Santosh K. Joy contributed to this story.)

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