The Indispensable Right to Education
|Citation||1987 AIR 748|
|Year of the Case||1992|
|Respondent||State of Karnataka & Ors.|
|Bench/Judges||Justice Kuldip Singh|
The Indian government saves some proportion of private school confirmations for students from communities that are perceived by the Indian Constitution as having encountered notable discrimination, or different groups designated by the government. These reservations are frequently alluded to as “government seats”.
In 1989, the Government of Karnataka gave a notification according to the Karnataka Educational Institutions (Denial of Capitation Fee) Act of 1984, which forbids capitation fees – those dependent on the number of people to whom a service is given, as opposed to the expense of offering a service. The notification fixed the greatest permissible education costs to students of private medical universities in the State.
Under the notification, private clinical schools were permitted to charge higher fees to students not admitted to government seats than to those admitted to government seats. Understudies admitted to government seat were required to pay Rs 2,000 every year in fees. Students from Karnataka, who were not admitted to government seats, were charged up to Rs 25,000 every year. Students from outside Karnataka were charged up to Rs 60,000 every year.
Brief Statement of Facts
- The Karnataka Legislature enacted the Karnataka Educational Institutions (Prohibition of Capitation Fee) Act, 1984 (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Act’). The objective behind said enactment was eliminating the practice of collecting capitation fee from students at the time of admission. The Act came into effect on July 11, 1983, replacing Karnataka Ordinance No. 14 of 1983.
- Following this, the Karnataka Legislature issued a notification (hereinafter referred to as ‘the impugned notification’) under Section 5(1) of the Act, to regulate the tuition fees charged by Private Medical Colleges in the State. This notification was dated June 5, 1989, and enlisted the tuition fee, and other fees and deposits that the students would be charged.
- The notification stipulated that students joining through “Government seats” were to be charged Rs. 2,000 while those from Karnataka (barring those entering through government seats) would be charged not more than Rs. 25,000, and those from outside Karnataka would be charged not more than 60,000 per annum.
- The Petitioner, Ms Mohini Jain, was a resident of Meerut and was informed through a post that she could enrol into the MBBS programme at Sri Siddharatha Medical College, Agalokote, Tumkur, Karnataka, and the session was to commence in February/March 1991. The Respondents claimed that she was asked to pay an amount of Rs. 60,000, and subsequently, the Management received a call by the Petitioner’s father who declared that he did not have the means to pay the exorbitant amount.
- The Petitioner claimed that she was asked to pay an additional sum of about four and a half lakhs as capitation fee, which was denied by the Respondents vehemently. Ms Jain filed a petition under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution challenging the notification of the Karnataka Legislature that allows for demanding such exorbitant amounts from students in the name of tuition.
- The petition claimed that the notification was violative of Articles 12, 14, 21, and 41 of the Indian Constitution as it blatantly denied Right to education to Indian citizens on an arbitrary basis. The fee charged could easily be identified as capitation fee. It was, therefore, violative of Section 3 of the Act and against the virtues of Right to Equality and Right to Education.
- Whether the Right to Education is guaranteed to the citizens of India in consonance with Fundamental Rights, and whether charging a capitation fee infracts the same?
- Whether the charging of capitation fee is violative of the equality clause enshrined in Article 14?
- Whether the impugned notification permitted the charging of a capitation fee under the guise of regulation?
- Whether the notification is violative of the provisions of the Act prohibiting the charging of such fees?
Mr Santosh Hegde, appearing for the Medical College, based their contention on the validity of the classification of students into meritorious and non-meritorious. This bifurcation of students was put forth as a justification for charging exorbitant fee from non-meritorious students. Further, the justification itself—bifurcation based on merit—was said to be valid, and, therefore, the extra fee being charged from students who weren’t meritorious was also valid.
The object of this classification sought to achieve was to make up for the expenses incurred by the college in providing medical education to students. It was further argued that the Private Medical Colleges in the State of Karnataka are precluded from financial aid. They have to bear the burden of students not admitted through government seats, and, to keep the institution afloat, have to charge an extra fee, which isn’t excessive. The Private Medical Colleges are not making any profits. It was also contended that there isn’t a provision under the Constitution or any other law that prohibits the charging of capitation fee, for this they placed reliance on D.P. Joshi v. The State of Madhya Bharat and anr.
The Hon’ble Court adjudicated in the following manner based on the principles mentioned therein:
- State action or inaction, which defeats the purpose of the Constitutional mandate is per se arbitrary and cannot be sustained:
The Hon’ble Court recognized that the State must act in consonance with the Directive Principles of State Policy and the Preamble, which expressly state that the State must endeavour to eradicate poverty and ensure to every citizen his or her Right to life. Therefore, a critical principle that arose was that the State’s inaction makes the State as complicit as it would have been in the happenstance that it actively advocated for the imposition of a capitation fee.
- Unequal educational prospects cannot be used for profiteering:
The Hon’ble Court recognized that a capitation fee was ‘nothing but a price for selling education’ over and above the actual cost of the education itself. It recognized the rapid privatization of education in India, and especially Karnataka, but also restricted the commercial nature of education. The Court was firm in its stance that this commercial nature, when taken to the extreme, is completely against the culture and heritage of the Indian society.
- Charging a capitation fee on the tuition during admission is violative of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution:
The Hon’ble Court held that the denial of education based on the financial capital owned by the individual seeking education was indicative of class bias and arbitrariness. The Court expounded upon the same by stating that there was a grave injustice taking place if privileged individuals seeking admission could purchase said admission. At the same time, a meritorious candidate loses the opportunity due to a lack of monetary resources. The Court stated that the consideration of a capitation fee and whether it is payable strikes at the very roots of the constitutional scheme. The Court held that the only method of admitting students that adhered to the principles of
fair play and equity were to admit them based merit and merit alone.
- The “Right to Education” is concomitant to the Fundamental Rights enshrined in Part III of the Constitution:
The Court held that fundamental rights guaranteed under Part III cannot be isolated from the directive principles as mentioned in the Constitution, and must be read together. Building on the same principle, the Court believed that unless a formal introduction of the ‘Right to Education’ under Article 41 was made in the Constitution, the purpose of Fundamental Rights would escape the large majority of the Indian population which is illiterate. Furthermore, the Court held the State accountable in its duty to ensure that the access to avail the benefits guaranteed by Fundamental Rights was available to all individuals, poor or rich. As an illustration, the Court discussed that the Right to freedom of speech and expression could not be truly realized in the absence of the Right to education.
- The Right to education flows directly from the Right to life:
The Court held that the Right to life encompasses all the rights that are basic to the ‘dignified enjoyment of life’. The ‘Right to Life’ under Article 21 cannot be assured unless the Right to education is also assured. Thus, every citizen has a right to education, and the State must fulfil its obligation by establishing educational institutions that enable this Right.
- Charging a capitation fee in any educational institution is not permitted by law:
Finally, the Court held that charging a capitation fee in an educational institution and using it as consideration to grant admission was not permissible in law. The impugned notification issued by the Karnataka Legislature was quashed with prospective effect. However, it was also clarified that the content of the judgment would not apply to international students and students who were Non-Resident Indians.
The Hon’ble Court modelled its decision on principles of social welfare and equity. A decade and a half before ‘Right to Education’ was formally introduced in the Constitution. The judgement is progressive and ahead of its time. The Court was diligent in its interpretation of what amounted as a capitation fee and its applicability—or lack thereof. Its thorough examination of Fundamental Rights interlinked with the Right to education was commendable.
The Court emphasized the Right to equal opportunity being just as integral as the Right to equality itself. A radical statement in the newly-liberalized Indian context, the concept that the Right to education flowed from the Right to life paid homage to the ideologies of the olden days. The Court placed import on merit rather than financial capital, an act that could be seen as resistance against privatizing education.
- D.P. Joshi v. The State of Madhya Bharat and anr.  SCR 1215
- Mohini Jain v. State of Karnataka (accessed July 8, 2020) <http://oscpcr.nic.in/sites/default/files/Miss_Mohini_Jain_vs_State_Of_Karnataka_And_Ors_on_30_July,_1992.PDF>
- Schools can’t be allowed to fix exorbitant fees, (accessed July 8, 2020) <https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Schools-cant-be-allowed-to-fix-exorbitant-fees/articleshow/5600370.cms>