A Note on the eve of Right to Education Bill in Lok Sabha
I write to you this personal note on the eve of a [non]-historic so-called Right to Education Bill, 2008 Bill being tabled in Lok Sabha. Through this Note, I would attempt to share with you my sense of deep anguish and concern for the future of our Republic in its sixtieth year. Although, this Note is limited to the issue of education as a Fundamental Right, the implications encompass all aspects and dimensions of our socio-economic life.
Here is weblink to my article published in The Telegraph on 28th July 2009 (the original title of the article read as â€œThe Bill That Denies Right to Educationâ€�): http://www.telegraphindia.com/1090728/jsp/opinion/story_11287996.jsp
Tomorrow (i.e. 29 July 2009) the said Bill will be tabled in Lok Sabha, speeches made (â€œI rise to support the Bill but . . . . â€œ) and passed expectedly by a unanimous vote after oral assurances (minus Constitutional guarantees) by the Minister of HRD that all will be well. This has been the history of this legislative process since 28th November 2001 when the 86th (then 93rd) Constitutional Amendment Bill was tabled in Lok Sabha, even as 40,000 people from several parts of India were holding a protest rally from Ramlila Grounds to Rajghat and back to Ramlila Grounds. Once this is done, we will wait for the President to sign the Bill.
The Presidential assent will mark the full conversion of a Fundamental Right into an ordinary statutory right. Who said that? Believe it or not, this was stated by the HRD Minister Mr. Kapil Sibal in May 2002 in Rajya Sabha, of course then sitting in opposition as member of the Congress Party! Why did he say that? As an eminent judicial mind of the country, he knew that the Article 21A introduced by the 86th Amendment has the conditionality that free and compulsory education shall be provided â€œin such manner as the State may, by law, determine.â€� Such conditionality is not attached to any other Fundamental Right.. The State was determined to attach this conditionality in order to use it for enacting a law (now being tabled in Lok Sabha on 30th July 2009) whose central objective will be to legitimize all the dilution and distortion that the school education policy has undergone initially as part of World Bankâ€™s DPEP in 1990s and later in SSA during the present decade. This was necessary in order to use the Constitution for putting a stamp of approval on the neo-liberal programme of privatization and commercialization of school education. Sibalâ€™s 100-day agenda almost completes a critical phase of the neo-liberal agenda of which this Bill is an integral part.
On 20th July 2009, when the present Bill was tabled in Rajya Sabha, several members inquired why the children below six years of ago have been kept out of their existing Fundamental Right to balanced nutrition, health support and pre-primary education. Ironically, the same Mr. Sibal who criticized Article 21A more than seven years ago in Rajya Sabha had no qualms in stating that â€œthe [present] legislation is in the context of [Article] 21A and that is why we have not dealt with 0-5 years.â€�
This is why I have been consistently maintaining since November 2001 that 86th Constitutional Amendment is a neo-liberal intervention in our Constitution and the consequential Right to Education Bill under Article 21A in Lok Sabha has to be viewed as a neo-liberal Bill. I wait for history to vindicate my stand.
On 23rd July 2009, the All India Forum for Right to Education (AIF-RTE) organized a delegation to meet the Lok Sabha Speaker Ms. Meira Kumar (see attachment for the Memorandum with a detailed critique of the Bill). The delegation was led by Com. D. Raja, Natl. Secy of CPI and a Rajya Sabha member. Ms. Medha Patkar and Sh. Sandeep Pande joined the delegation and endorsed the AIF-RTE stand. We appealed to Ms. Meira Kumar to return the Bill to the Ministryâ€™s Parliamentary Standing Committee (or a joint select committee) with directions to hold Public Hearings on the Bill around the country in a democratic and transparent manner. Why this demand at this late stage? To be sure, this demand is 4 years and 8 months old. Public Hearings on the Bill (as well as during its drafting process) have been demanded since CABEâ€™s Kapil Sibal Committee began the process of drafting the present Bill in November 2004. However, not one Public Hearing has been held either by CABE or by the HRD Ministry â€" not even by the PMâ€™s Office which sat over the various drafts â€" each one more diluted that the previous one â€" for almost 39 months from August 2005 onwards. Public Hearings were denied even by the Ministryâ€™s Parliamentary Standing Committee which preferred to discuss the Bill with Ministryâ€™s bureaucrats and official â€˜educratsâ€™ in closed chambers rather than with representatives of various education rights organizations or peopleâ€™s movements, refusing to even accept submissions and Memoranda. Hence this demand to the Lok Sabha speaker.
You may like to ask what happens to childrenâ€™s Fundamental Right while the Public Hearings are held and the Bill amended or re-drafted on the basis of the public feedback. Would this not further delay the provision of the Fundamental Right which is about to be given after waiting for it for sixty years? NO, NOT ALL! This is so because the Fundamental Right to Education, without any conditionality whatsoever, is inherent in the Constitution, as declared by Supreme Courtâ€™s Unnikrishnan Judgment (1993). Various High Courts have been giving their judgments on education as a Fundamental Right under Unnikrishnan Judgment for the past several years. This Bill is designed only to dilute and distort the existing Fundamental Right.
On 28th July, Shiksha Adhikar Manch, Bhopal organized a day-long peaceful dharna (with some members fasting) in front of Babasaheb Ambedkarâ€™s statue in Bhopal and underlined three major violations of the Constitution by the Bill being tabled before Lok Sabha. In addition, the Manch urged upon the Lok Sabha members to â€œrise above their narrow party considerations, listen to the voice of their inner conscience and stand up against this anti-Constitutional, anti-education and anti-child Bill that denies Fundamental Right to almost 45 crore children up to 18 years of age.â€� This is critical for protecting the Constitution and saving our education system from further deterioration and neo-liberal assaults which this Bill is going to institutionalize (see attachment for Manchâ€™ Press Release in Hindi).
On the eve of this farcical and neo-liberal Bill being tabled in Lok Sabha, AIF-RTE invites all fellow citizens and like-minded peopleâ€™s organizations to join us in building a powerful long-term movement to challenge Sibalâ€™s agenda to sell our education system to corporate houses and the global capital and, in the process also build peopleâ€™s consciousness about the Constitutionâ€™s vision of Right to Education. Before closing, let me add that while what is focused upon in this Note constitutes reflections on the neo-liberal assault on Fundamental Right to Education, such an assault is taking place simultaneously on all sectors of the nationâ€™s life. Drawing lessons from our sectoral concerns, we must learn to build a common political agenda to effectively resist this wide-ranging and multi-dimensional attack endangering the future of India as a sovereign nation and its survival as a democratic, egalitarian and secular society.
Sincerely, Prof Anil Sadgopal 29th July 2009
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