In India, children between the age group of 6 and 14 years have the fundamental right to free and compulsory education. This right is implemented through the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act). The Act is applicable to all categories of schools (government and private). According to recent media reports (see here and here), many schools (including government schools) are flouting norms laid down in the RTE Act. Unaided schools have criticised state government over norms related to religious and linguistic status of minority schools (see here and here). The government has also faced flak over unclear norms on neighbourhood schools and reimbursement of money to private schools (see here, here and here). Most Acts ‘delegate’ the power to make rules and regulations for operationalising the law to the executive (Ministry). We provide an overview of the Rules notified by the state governments. The central government notified the RTE Rules 2010 on April 9, 2010, which are applicable to all schools under the central government, and in the five Union Territories without legislatures. Most of the states have notified similar Rules with a few variations. The Rules define the limits of a neighbourhood and make it mandatory for the local authority to maintain list of children within its jurisdiction. They also prescribe the composition of the School Management Committee to be formed in government schools. Private schools shall reserve 25% of the seats for disadvantaged children. These schools shall be reimbursed for either their tuition charge or the per-student expenditure in government schools, whichever is lower. All private schools have to be recognised before they can start operation. Recognition is contingent upon meeting the minimum standard laid down in the Act Existing private schools have to meet the norms within three years of commencement of the Act. If they are not compliant after three years, they shall cease to function. Government schools under the central government have to meet only two conditions: the minimum qualification for teachers and the student-teacher ratio. For all state government schools and un-adided schools, the power to make rules is delegated to the state government. The central government circulated Model Rules for the RTE Act to the states. All state governments, except Goa, have notified the state RTE Rules. Delhi and Puducherry have also notified them. Most of the states have notified similar Rules with a few variations. We list some of the variations. Andhra Pradesh: The break-up of the 25% quota among the various disadvantaged groups have been included in the Rules. Scheduled Castes: 10%; Scheduled Tribes: 4%; Orphans, disabled and HIV affected: 5% and children with parents whose annual income is lower than Rs 60,000: 6%. Rajasthan: Private schools either have to be affiliated with a university or recognised by any officer authorised by the state government. Karnataka: In addition to the minimum norms under RTE Act, private schools have to comply with the Karnataka Education Act, 1983. Gujarat: If an existing recognised school is unable to meet the infrastructure norms it may be given the option of demonstrating that it achieved certain learning outcomes, both in terms of absolute levels and as improvement from previous years. Uttar Pradesh: The government shall pay per child reimbursement to the school after it gives a list of children with their Unique Identity Number and other details. Kerala: The local authority has to maintain a record of all the children (0-14 years) within its jurisdiction. It shall also maintain the Unique Identity Number of every child, as and when issued by the competent authority, to monitor his enrolment, attendance and learning achievements. Haryana: Defines textbooks, uniform and writing material. It states that Hindi is to be the preferred medium of instruction in all schools. For using other language, permission of Director, Elementary Education Dept is required (to be given within 45 days or deemed to be granted). West Bengal: The Rules give detailed definition of the appropriate age for each class. They require schools to be set up in a relatively noise-free and pollution-free area with adequate supply of drinking water and electricity. Existing schools (which are already recognised or affiliated with a Board) may get the local municipal authorities to provide infrastructural support including relaxation of building rules to comply with the requirements of the Act. Additional sources
The Uttarakhand Assembly concluded a two-day session on November 30, 2022. The session was scheduled to be held over five days. In this post we look at the legislative business that was carried out in the Assembly, and the state of state legislatures.
13 Bills were introduced and passed within two days
As per the Session Agenda, a total of 19 Bills were listed for introduction in the span of two days. 13 of these were listed to be discussed and passed on the second day. These included the Uttarakhand Protection of Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (Amendment), Bill, 2022, and the Uttarakhand Anti-Littering and Anti-Spitting (Amendment) Bill, 2022.
The Assembly had proposed to discuss and pass each Bill (barring two) within five minutes (see Figure 1). Two Bills were allocated 20 minutes each for discussion and passing - the Haridwar Universities Bill, 2022, and the Public Service (Horizontal Reservation for Women) Bill, 2022. As per news reports, the Assembly passed all 13 Bills within these two days (this excludes the Appropriation Bills). This raises the question on the amount of scrutiny that these Bills were subject to, and the quality of such laws when the legislature intends to pass them within mere minutes.
Figure 1: Excerpt of Uttarakhand Assembly's November 2022 Session Agenda
Law making requires deliberation, scrutiny
Our law-making institutions have several tools at their disposal to ensure that before a law is passed, it has been examined thoroughly on various aspects such as constitutionality, clarity, financial and technical capacity of the state to implement provisions, among others. The Ministry/Department piloting a Bill could share a draft of the Bill for public feedback (pre-legislative scrutiny). While Bills get introduced, members may raise issues on constitutionality of the proposed law. Once introduced, Bills could be sent to legislative committees for greater scrutiny. This allows legislators to deliberate upon individual provisions in depth, understand if there may be constitutional challenges or other issues with any provision. This also allows experts and affected stakeholders to weigh in on the provisions, highlight issues, and help strengthen the law.
However, when Bills are introduced and passed within mere minutes, it barely gives legislators the time to go through the provisions and mull over implications, issues, or ways to improve the law for affected parties. It also raises the question of what the intention of the legislature is when passing laws in a hurry without any discussion. Often, such poorly thought laws are also challenged in Courts.
For instance, the Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in this session (five minutes had been allocated for the discussion and passing of the Bill). The 2022 Bill amends the 2018 Act which prohibits forceful religious conversions, and provides that conversion through allurement or marriage will be unlawful. The Bill has provisions such as requiring an additional notice to be sent to the District Magistrate (DM) for a conversion, and that reconversion to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion. Some of these provisions seem similar to other laws that were passed by states and have been struck down by or have been challenged in Courts. For example, the Madhya Pradesh High Court while examining the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 noted that providing a notice to the DM for a conversion of religion violates the right to privacy as the right includes the right to remain silent. It extends that understanding to the right to decide on one’s faith. The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 exempted people who reconvert to their original religion from giving a public notice of such conversion. The Himachal Pradesh High Court had struck down this provision as discriminatory and violative of the right to equality. The Court also noted that the right to change one’s belief cannot be taken away for maintaining public order.
Uttarakhand MLAs may not have had an opportunity to think about how issues flagged by Courts may be addressed in a law that regulates religious conversions.
Most other state Assemblies also pass Bills without adequate scrutiny
In 2021 44% states passed Bills on the day it was introduced or on the next day. Between January 2018 and September 2022, the Gujarat Assembly introduced 92 Bills (excluding Appropriation Bills). 91 of these were passed in the same day as their introduction. In the 2022 Monsoon Session, the Goa Assembly passed 28 Bills in the span of two days. This is in addition to discussion and voting on budgetary allocation to various government departments.
Figure 2: Time taken by state legislatures to pass Bills in 2021
Note: The chart above does not include Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. A Bill is considered passed within a day if it was passed on the day of introduction or on the next day. For states with bicameral legislatures, bills have to be passed in both Houses. This has been taken into account in the above chart for five states having Legislative Councils, except Bihar (information was not available for Council).
Sources: Assembly websites, E-Gazette of various states and Right to Information requests; PRS.
Occasionally, the time actually spent deliberating upon a Bill is lesser than the allocated time. This may be due to disruptions in the House. The Himachal Pradesh Assembly provides data on the time actually spent discussing Bills. For example, in the August 2022 Session, it spent an average of 12 minutes to discuss and pass 10 Bills. However, the Uttarakhand Assembly allocated only five minutes to discuss each Bill in its November 2022 Session. This indicates the lack of intent of certain state legislatures to improve their functioning.
In the case of Parliament, a significant portion of scrutiny is also carried out by the Department Related Standing Committees, even when Parliament is not in session. In the 14th Lok Sabha (LS), 60% of the Bills introduced were sent to Committees for detailed examination, and in the 15th LS, 71% were sent. These figures have reduced recently – in the 16th LS 27% of the Bills were sent to Committees, and so far in the 17th LS, 13% have been sent. However, across states, sending Bills to Committees for detailed examination is often the exception than the norm. In 2021, less than 10% of the Bills were sent to Committees. None of the Bills passed by the Uttarakhand Assembly had been examined by a committee. States that are an exception here include Kerala which has 14 subject Committees, and Bills are regularly sent to these for examination. However, these Committees are headed by their respective Ministers, which reduces the scope of independent scrutiny that may be undertaken.