It has been five years since Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act or Right to Education Act (RTE) came into effect. As per section 12 (1) C read with section 2 (n) (iv) of the act private unaided schools were asked to provide admission to children belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups to the extent of at least 25 percent of the strength of its Class I.

Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India in its review of the School Education Department of Tamil Nadu state government, reviewed the implementation to RTE Act during the year 2013-14.

During the period of March to June 2013, audit test-checked records of School Education Department, Director of School Education, Director of Elementary Education, Director of Matriculation Schools, who is also the chief state nodal officer; State Project Director of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and District level officers.

Besides checking the records, audit also test-checked records of 55 out of 527 Nursery and Primary Schools and 55 out of 528 Matriculation schools in four districts (Chennai, Tiruvallur, Coimbatore and Pudukottai).

Students of Corporation Higher Secondary School revising before their exams. Pic: B A Raju.

Failure to notify local authority

Section 2 (h) of the RTE Act states that “local authority” means a Municipal Corporation or Municipal Council or Zilla Parishad or Nagar Panchayat or Panchayat and the term would include such other authority or body that has administrative control over the neighbourhood schools.

Section 9 of the Act envisages that every local authority shall :
(a) provide free and compulsory elementary education to every child residing in its jurisdiction
(b) maintain prescribed records of children up to the age of 14 years
(c) ensure and monitor admission, attendance and completion of elementary education by every child
(d) monitor functioning of the schools within its jurisdiction.

As per section 32 of the Act, local authority shall also perform the function of grievance redressal and the responsibility of identifying and notifying local authority vests with Government of Tamil Nadu.

During audit scrutiny, it was found that the central government had directed Government of Tamil Nadu in February 2012 to notify the “local authority” at the village, block and district level, and for next two years Tamil Nadu government didn’t do anything to implement these directions.

Audit also found a reminder correspondence from the central government dated February 2014, which also stated that “release of funds to the state under SSA for 2014-'15 would be subject to notification of local authority” and directed the state government to issue requisite notification by 15th March 2014.

Audit noticed that Director of Matriculation Schools had called for suggestions from Department of Elementary Education and Department of School Education to submit a proposal on the subject  in February 2014, but this was not done till the date of audit, i.e. June 2014.

Implementation of the provision of 25 percent reservation

It was found that out of 1004 unaided non-minority nursery and primary schools, in 4 test-checked districts, 467 schools with 4307 admission seats meant for the children belonging to weaker sections or disadvantaged groups, failed to provide admission under 25 percent reservation provision of the act. Audit also noticed that in the remaining 537 schools, which provided admissions under 25 percent reservation provision, there was a shortfall in admission to the extent of 759 seats.

Similarly, out of 862 matriculation schools, in 4 test-checked districts, 334 schools with 4998 seats for admission meant for children belonging to weaker sections or disadvantaged groups, failed to provide admissions. In the remaining 528 schools, audit noticed shortfall to the extent of 3394 seats.

Responding to these audit findings, Director of Matriculation Schools stated in March 2014 that shortfall could be attributed to “inadequate awareness among the parents about the Act and location of schools beyond a distance of one kilometer/ three kilometers from the residential areas”.

CAG of India termed this reply as unacceptable and highlighted that “801 schools (i.e. 43 percent) out of 1866 nursery and primary schools/ matriculation schools in the test-checked districts did not admit any child from weaker section/ disadvantaged group under the Act”.

CAG audit also pointed out that “non-notification of local authority was the main reason for non-implementation/ partial implementation of the Act”.

Shortfall in admissions in test-checked schools

CAG of India decided to further take up a close look at the extent of failure of implementation of provisions of the Act by test-checking records of 110 schools (55 nursery and primary schools and 55 matriculation schools).

After test-checking they found that out 110 schools, 41 schools had fully complied with 25 percent reservation provision of the act, while 69 schools (35 nursery and primary schools and 34 matriculation schools) had admitted only 407 students, whereas to ensure full compliance they should have admitted 929 students belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups. The details of shortfall are as below:

Shockingly, further scrutiny shows that in 47 schools out of 69 schools reporting partial compliance of 25 percent reservation provision, 1157 children who were actually eligible for admissions under the disadvantaged group category, were admitted under general category on collection of fees, even as records showed that 318 seats were available under the 25 percent reservation quota!

Audit also found that these admissions were done without adhering to the instructions issued by the Chief State Nodal Officer dated May 2013 that “the unfilled seats under the 25 percent reservation quota were to be kept vacant for such admissions and were not to be filled on their own by the unaided non-minority schools”.

Audit also found other non-compliance and violations such as, children admitted under 25 percent reservation without ensuring their eligibility through proper documents, 59 schools collected fees from students admitted under 25 percent reservation provision, free uniform, textbooks and writing material were not provided by 83 schools, state government failed to provide funds for reimbursement of expenditure to unaided non-minority schools and also failed to put in place monitoring mechanism to ensure proper implementation of the Act.

CAG audit paragraph 3.1 (from page no 101 to 107) ends with a sad last line which captures the attitude of the state government on the audit findings: “The matter was referred to Government in July 2014; reply has not been received (December 2014)".

How can such non-compliance and violations of RTE Act invoke stony silence as a response? Will the civil society in Tamil Nadu pick up this issue and turn the audit findings into a campaign?

Let us hope that the campaigners can undertake the much needed follow-up and ensure that the parents of children who were denied admissions under 25 percent reservation provision get justice.