The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the constitutional validity of the Right to Education Act, 2009, which mandates 25 per cent free seats to the poor in government and private unaided schools uniformly across the country.
By a majority view, a three-judge bench of Chief Justice S H Kapadia and justices K S Radhakrishnan and Swantanter Kumar said the act will apply uniformly to government and unaided private schools except unaided private minority schools.
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Radhakrishnan took the view that the act should not apply to both unaided private schools as also minority institutions, which do not receive any aid or grant from the government.
Justice Radhakrishnan's view was overruled by justices Kapadia and Swantanter Kumar, who took the stand that the act would be applicable even to unaided private schools.
The apex court clarified that its judgment will come into force from today and, hence, it will not apply to admissions granted after the enactment of the legislation.
In other words, the apex court said the judgment will only have a prospective affect and not retrospective affect.
Upholding the provisions of the law, the apex court said the impugned act should be construed as "child specific".
The three-judge bench had reserved its verdict on August 3 last year on a batch of petitions by private unaided institutions, which had contended that the Act violates the rights of private educational institutions under Article 19(1)(g), which provided autonomy to private managements to run their institutions without governmental interference.
During the marathon arguments in the case which went for many months, the Centre had defended the law, saying it was aimed at uplifting the socially and economically weaker sections of the society.
The Centre had emphasised the need to de-link merit and talent from social and economic differences among different sections of society. The Act calls for "moving towards composite classrooms with children from diverse backgrounds, rather than homogeneous and exclusivist schools," the government argued.
The main petitioner Society for Unaided Private Schools, Rajasthan, and a host of associations representing various private schools had questioned the validity of the Act on the ground that it impinged on their rights to run the educational institutions.
The law was brought by introducing Article 21(A) in the Constitution, which says the state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children between six and 14 years in such a manner as the state may, by law, determine.
The petitions had contended that the RTE Act was "unconstitutional" and "violative" of fundamental rights.
According to the petitioners, Section 3 of the Act imposed an absolute mandate on all schools, including private unaided and minority institutions, to admit without any choice each and every child whosoever comes to take admission in the schools in the neighbourhood.