March 27, 2024


Is Maharashtra’s decision to amend the RTE Act reasonable?

For decades, ever since BR Ambedkar gave his speech on the “Annihilation of Caste”, India has continued to grapple with not just caste but also class. It’s a challenge that continues to this day and affects almost all aspects of people’s lives, including education.

In all the hullaballoo of election and electoral bonds coverage over the past few weeks, something significant happened in Maharashtra concerning education, caste, and class. The government amended the Right to Education Act (RTE) to exclude private schools from reserving 25% of their seats for students from backward classes and castes. The government has defended this and other decisions that come with the amendments. Critics have argued this further disenfranchises families from poor backgrounds and goes against the law.


When the Indian Constitution was reinforced in 1950, it had a directive principle promising free and compulsory education for all children until 14. In many ways, this wasn’t on the books until 2009, when the Right to Education Act was notified.

While few state laws did mandate education, it was only after Independence and with the Constitution in hand that education was recognised as significant for the country’s development. One of the recommendations of The Indian Education Commission was for a common school system to eliminate any inequities in access to education.

In 2005, the ‘Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill’ was drafted. The Act came into effect in 2010. Currently, under Article 21-A of the Constitution, every child between the ages of 6 and 14 has a fundamental right to education.

One of the components is pertinent to the issue we’re discussing. It states private schools must take in a quarter (25%) of their class strength from “weaker sections and disadvantaged groups”. The cost of this will be reimbursed by the government. It was initially challenged in the Supreme Court, but it upheld its constitutionality.

The question of who defines and who constitutes weaker sections and disadvantaged groups was left to the states. The Centre’s guidelines were vague. Delhi defines them as families having a household income of less than ₹1 lakh. Rajasthan sets the income limit to ₹2.5 lakh per annum. This is one of the reasons why this particular policy has been haphazardly implemented.

Coming to Maharashtra, the new rules state that private unaided schools won’t be identified for the 25% reservation policy in places where government or aided schools are located within a 1 km radius of that school. Students in such neighbourhoods will be considered for admission into government or aided schools.

Is this decision the right one? Will it not mean more kids out of school?

VIEW: It’s the right call

State Education Minister Suraj Mandhare and other officials defended the decision. They said the move was done to help disadvantaged students get admission to schools closest to them. According to Mandhare, during discussions on the implementation of the RTE Act at the regional level in 2022, many government and aided schools weren’t included under the RTE Act. These had good facilities and were huge in number. However, the number of private schools was fewer.

Maharashtra has an interesting history with the 25% reservation clause under the RTE. It hasn’t really worked in the past. The state government is expected to reimburse schools for books, uniforms, and fees. But every year, private schools don’t get this reimbursement and are unable to admit students from economically weaker sections. Government and aided schools do a better job on admissions since they’re directly funded.

The amendment doesn’t stop admissions into private schools in any way. Those who don’t have government or aided schools nearby will remain under the RTE and abide by the 25% reservation rule. Other states have struggled with this rule. In Karnataka last year, there were no admissions under the RTE quota across nine districts. If we look at the state as a whole, over 15,000 seats were available, but only 2,306 took admission under the quota.

COUNTERVIEW: It’s counterproductive

Students and parents associations in the state have called out the government for their decision. They said the new rule will leave lakhs of underprivileged students without access to quality education. These students have the right to get the best education possible, and being in private schools in the English medium could help break the barrier between rich and poor children. The Maharashtra government’s decision undermines the bedrock of the RTE Act.

There’s an obvious and unfortunate assumption here that Engligh-medium private schools are better than government and aided schools. That aside, it seems like the government’s inability to reimburse private schools is to be blamed. That’s their inefficiency at play. The result is a hasty rule change that could affect lakhs of students. It shows a casual attitude towards constitutional rights.

The government’s decision will only lead to more segregation based on class and caste. The rich upper-class students in private schools and those from backward classes in government schools. Elite private schools have criticised the RTE and have given various excuses in the years since – untimely reimbursement of fees, RTE students finding it difficult to cope in an English medium environment, etc. There’s a worrying trend where decisions like the one made by the Maharashtra government won’t do anything to bridge the education and economic gaps in India.

Reference Links:

  • Why Maharashtra is exempting private schools from RTE quota admissions – The Indian Express
  • Maharashtra: Govt, Aided Schools Included in RTE Admissions – Free Press Journal
  • RTE admission process begins in Maharashtra – Hindustan Times
  • Maharashtra: Commissioner of state education defends RTE changes amidst uproar – Mid-Day
  • Pune: RTE Act change a huge setback for students – Pune Mirror
  • Door shut: Editorial on Maharashtra government’s decision to tweak the RTE Act – The Telegraph
  • How Maharashtra’s amendment to the Right to Education Act will foster ghettoisation – Scroll

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) Maharashtra’s decision to amend the RTE Act is reasonable.

b) Maharashtra’s decision to amend the RTE Act is unreasonable.


For the Right:

Heed Wangchuck’s warning

For the Left:

Can Congress and AAP continue to disregard law?