Aruna Roy v. Union of India

Case NameAuna Roy and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors
CitationAIR 2002 SC 3176
CourtSupreme court of India
Case NumberWrit Petition (Civil) No. 98 of 2002
BenchJustice M.B.Shah, Justice D.M.Dharmadhikari, Justice H.K.Sema
Acts/ Rules/ Order referredConstitution of India
Relevant Sections/ ArticlesArticles 28, 28(1), 32, 51(a) of the Constitution of India


The Writ Petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution raised questions about the distinction between religious instructions and religious education, also it scrutinized the need for religious education. The Court answered them all as a three-judge bench agreed upon the need for a religious education as religion is the basis for moral values and all religions ultimately preach social harmony. Therefore by religious education, students will be able to know about all religions, how they all are common in nature and hence, bring peace in the society. It will help the students to inculcate moral values from the beginning.


 The National Curriculum Framework for School Education (NCFSE) published by National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). This curriculum was about starting religious education in schools to provide knowledge to the students about different religions and their impact in India as well as in the world, but it was challenged in the Court saying that it was against the constitutional provisions and was without consultation with Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), an important advisory body since 1935, thus making the curriculum invalid. 


1. Whether the National Curriculum Framework for School Education published by the National Council of Educational Research and Training was mandatory to be consulted with the Central Advisory Board of Education?

2.  Whether education about religion or religious education is violative of Article 28 of the Constitution of India and anti-secular? 


The Writ Petition was filed under Article 32 of the constitution of India. Article 32 states,  “Remedies for enforcement of rights conferred by this Part

  •  The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part is guaranteed
  • The Supreme Court shall have power to issue directions or orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari, whichever may be appropriate, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by this Part
  •  Without prejudice to the powers conferred on the Supreme Court by clause (1) and (2), Parliament may by law empower any other court to exercise within the local limits of its jurisdiction all or any of the powers exercisable by the Supreme Court under clause (2)
  •  The right guaranteed by this article shall not be suspended except as otherwise provided for by this Constitution.

The Petitioners contended that the respondents did not seek the approval of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) before implementing the National Curriculum Framework for School Education (NCFSE). It was noted that CABE was in existence since 1935 and before framing any new curriculum related to education, CABE was always consulted. Since there was no consultation with CABE, (which is a non-statutory body dealing with the matters pertaining to education also maintaining state and central coordination), the NCFSE cannot be implemented based on its invalidity.

The Counsel for the Petitioner contended that this curriculum is violative of the Article 28 of Indian Constitution, the part in the Curriculum saying “Apart from this today’s requirement is not religious instructions but education about religion, their basics, the values inherent therein and also a comparative study of the philosophy of all religions.” violates Article 28. The learned Counsel additionally submitted that the Sanskrit language is imposed in an unjustified manner like Vedic astrology, Vedic maths, and declaring that Hindu festivals being treated as National festivals are violating the Constitutional provisions.


The  Respondent argued that just because previously CABE has been consulted before forming any national curriculum, it does not mean if the consultation is not done the curriculum will be violative of the rules. It has been functioning since1935, constituted by the Executive Government with 104 members out of which 64 are ex-officio, 32 are nominated by the Government and 8 are elected by the Parliament. The tenure of members exclusive of the ex-officio members are for three years from the date of notification. The last notification was in 1990 which was in force till 1994. After that, there was no notification for reconstitution since the Government did not nominate the members nor did the Parliament. It was stated that as per its resolutions, CABE is to review the progress of education from time to time and can advise the Government on the educational issues. Further, it was submitted by the Respondents that in the resolutions, it was nowhere mentioned that it is mandatory to consult with it before implanting any curriculum and thus, it cannot be held that the policy laid by NCERT is invalid. Moreover, the NCERT is an autonomous body established by the Union Government to promote education. It has the authority to publish a national curriculum and can publish books and literature which cannot be disputed.

The Respondents contented that the part highlighted by the petitioner’s counsel was out of context. The curriculum is prepared based on a report submitted to the Parliament on June 22nd, 1999 by SB Chavan Committee. It was also stated that some of the recommendations in the curriculum proposed by the NCERT were verbal of the report. Further, the NCERT consulted various institutions and experts and also sent a draft to all the education ministers who would have been part of the CABE if it was reconstituted. From this, it is very clear that the NCERT took various people and institutions into consideration for reviewing the curriculum. It was asserted that the curriculum promotes social harmony by pertaining knowledge of all religions and knowing how we all are related. This NCFSE curriculum also enriched Article 51(A) that is the fundamental duties.

It may be possible that the basics of all religions help in achieving the object behind fundamental duties. In the SB Chavan committee, it was stated that for distinguishing animals from human beings, religion came into existence. The sanction behind a civilized society depends upon moral values. Moral values are taught by saints all over the world who are the reflection of religion. The report was accepted by the Parliament and the NCERT followed the report and implemented the curriculum. Hence, it cannot be arbitrary or unjustified when the Parliament accepted such a report.

Referring to Article 28, “ Freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions

  1. No religion instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of State funds
  2.  Nothing in clause ( 1 ) shall apply to an educational institution which is administered by the State but has been established under any endowment or trust which requires that religious instruction shall be imparted in such institution
  3. No person attending any educational institution recognised by the State or receiving aid out of State funds shall be required to take part in any religious instruction that may be imparted in such institution or to attend any religious worship that may be conducted in such institution or in any premises attached thereto unless such person or, if such person is a minor, his guardian has given his consent thereto Cultural and Educational Rights.

It was interpreted that the article prohibits performing religious worship in the educational institutions but there is no prohibition for studying religious philosophy and culture. In the argument, where it was contended by the Petitioner’s Counsel that Sanskrit has been imposed is completely wrong because it is an elective subject and also one of the official languages under the 8th schedule of the Indian Constitution as per Article 351,

“Directive for development of the Hindi language It shall be the duty of the Union to promote the spread of the Hindi language, to develop it so that it may serve as a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India and to secure its enrichment by assimilating without interfering with its genius, the forms, style and expressions used in Hindustani and in the other languages of India specified in the Eighth Schedule, and by drawing, wherever necessary or desirable, for its vocabulary, primarily on Sanskrit and secondarily on other languages Part XVIII Emergency Provisions.”

which is dealing with the duty to promote the spread of Hindi it would primarily spread Sanskrit for its vocabulary.

 Regarding Vedic astrology, it is said in the curriculum that the word “astronomy” is mentioned and not Vedic astrology. Coming to Vedic mathematics, relating it with religion just because the word “Vedic” is unjustified as here Vedic is referred to Vedic “Times.” Further, the curriculum says about a joint celebration of festivals of major religious and cultural groups, it has nowhere mentioned about Hindu festivals to be a National festival.

It was read that in the past five decades after independence, we have witnessed constant erosion of social, moral, and spiritual values. Moreover, relating to schools,  the development of one’s psychic cannot be underestimated. Schools should strive to restore eternal values oriented towards the unity of people, their moral and spiritual growth. The schools are responsible for generating the moral values in the students to cultivate into responsible citizens. Students should be given awareness about how all religions are the same, only practice is different. However, utmost care is to be taken while educating about religions and all steps should be taken to ensure that the real purpose is not disturbed.


Justice D.M.Dharmadhikari said that in evolving such important national policy CABE should have been consulted, although non-consultation would not make the National policy to be set aside by the court. He stated in paragraph 90 that,

In a constitutional democracy, Parliament is supreme and policies have to be framed and approved by the Parliament. Parliament had constituted CABE and NCERT and if there is any difference in the opinion of both then it should be discussed. It is ultimately for the Parliament to decide on the National Education Policy one way or the other. The court is not required to intervene in between.”

He said that there is a very thin line between religious instructions and religious education which has to be maintained with special care. He also mentioned how the Indian Constitution is wedded to secularism and distinguishing religious education to religious instruction would mean approaching various religions with an attitude of understanding and trying to convey it to children. This is to be maintained while implementing such a National curriculum to avoid indoctrination of children in a particular faith. In India, religious pluralism should be accepted because it is opposed to exclusivism and encourages inclusivism. What is needed in education is that the children of this country should acknowledge the vast range and complexity of differences of religion by the same time they should understand the one ultimate reality.

It was held by Justice M.B. Shah that CABE’s non-consultation or approval is not sought before framing the curriculum, since CABE is a non-statutory body. Also, CABE has indeed played an important part in maintaining coordination between state and centre but it does not mean that any such policy made out by an independent body has to be consulted with CABE. He said that the curriculum nowhere talks about religious instructions as prohibited under Article 28.

It was stated that students can be given education about religion for general awareness, that the essence of every religion is common, only practices differ. Dogmas and superstition should not be propagated in the name of education about religion.

Expression ‘religious instructions’ used in the Article 28(1) have restricted meaning it conveys the teaching of customs, place of worship, which cannot be allowed in educational institutions at the same time it does not prohibit the study of religion philosophically and culturally.

Elaborating on secularism, it is the complete neutrality towards religion and apathy of all kinds yet the state has not been able to help in removing mutual misunderstanding, internal rate intolerance between the sections of people of different religious faith and belief. Secularism, therefore, can be understood as two positive meanings that are developing an understanding and respect towards different religions.

Justice H.K.Sema was of the view that sidestepping an important advisory like CABE is not proper, therefore, the Union of India is directed to fill up the places in CABE and reconstitute it. Also, it is directed to have a meeting considering the curriculum before the next academic session. Whereas, he also said that non-consultation will not invalidate the curriculum.

Cases Referred

  • A S Narayana Deekshitulu v/s State of Andhra Pradesh and Ors[1].  

In this case, Justice Hansaria pointed out the difference between religion and Dharma. He said that the aspect of our ancient thought concerning law was the clear recognition of the Supremacy of Dharma and articulation of the status of Dharma which is somewhat similar to the modern concept of rule of law. He quoted texts from ancient structures and proclaimed that the peace and harmony in the state can only be preserved by Dharma under the rule of law. It was mentioned that Dharma excludes none whereas sectarian religion is open to limited people only.

  •  In Santosh Kumar and Ors. v/s Secretary, Ministry of Human Resource Development and Ors.[2]

 The Court said that teaching the Sanskrit language as an elective subject is not against secularism as accepted by the 9 judge bench. The Sanskrit language is not imposed but is available as an additional subject for any student who wishes to study it. The Court emphasized on the importance of Sanskrit and declared omission of Sanskrit from CBSE syllabus as unjustified

  • In SR Bommai vs Union of India[3]

The court stated that secularism does not imply an anti-religion state, it focuses on the religion-neutral state.

  • In DAV College v/s State of Punjab[4]

The constitutional validity of certain provisions of Guru Nanak University Amritsar Act, 1969 was challenged by Dayanand Anglo Vedic College. It was scrutinized that if the university makes provision for study and research of the life and teachings of any saint, it cannot compulsorily require all the colleges to do so. The provision merely indicates that any student can engage himself in the study keeping in mind that the study of research is purely cultural and educational, the court stated that providing an academic study of life and teaching of philosophy and culture of any great saint of India about its impact on the world and Indian civilization cannot be considered as making provisions for religious instruction.


The case of Aruna Roy and Ors. v, Union of India and Ors. establishes the difference between religious education and religious instruction. Also, it scrutinizes the need for understanding that all religions are equal and are based on similar principles. As it was mentioned in paragraph 70 of the case “The lamps are different but the light is the same; it comes from beyond”.
The petitioners were of the view to invalidate the curriculum issued by the NCERT based on it being against article 28 of the Constitution. But the Court held that Article 28 has limited interpretation and it does not prohibit the study of religions in a cultural way which will help the students to be aware of the ideologies of all religions and respect them all. This will help maintain social harmony. The balance and distinction between religious education and religious instructions is to be maintained to keep the charisma of education.
Whereas, in the present case, it is comprehended that how beneficial it would be to study about religion but it should have also been considered at that point of time that if it goes wrong then how it would have impacted the psyche of the students. However, that is a possibility of being negative which, turned out as expected. 


[1] A S Narayana Deekshitulu v/s State of Andhra Pradesh and Ors.   AIR 1996 SC 1765

[2]  Santosh Kumar and Ors. v/s Secretary, Ministry of Human Resource Development and Ors. MANU SC 0060 1995

[3] SR bommai vs Union of India MANU SC 0444 1994

[4] DAV College v/s State of Punjab MANU SC 0039 1971

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