Three BJP-led municipal corporations in Delhi are either not maintaining or refusing to share data on the 25% reservation for economically weaker sections in school admissions.
New Delhi: Three BJP-ruled municipal corporations in Delhi have been accused of either not maintaining, or withholding information, pertaining to the mandatory reservation of 25% seats for children from economically weaker sections (EWS) and other disadvantaged groups in school admissions.
Following a petition by educationist and RTI activist, Anurag Kundu, the Delhi high court recently issued notice to all the three municipal corporations for not making public the vacant EWS seats in their schools.
In his petition, Kundu, along with three others, had stated that the fundamental and legal right to education belonging to children from EWS and disadvantaged groups would benefit if his plea was allowed.
Author of the report, 25% Full? – Status of Implementation of Right to Education Section 12(1)(c) in Delhi, Kundu had stated in his petition that the “constitutional commitment for free and compulsory education for all children until the age of 14 years should under no circumstances be diluted and the state should fulfil this solemn obligation to the nation”.
Civic bodies not maintaining EWS data
Kundu’s petition noted that under Section 12(1)(c) of the Right to Education Act (RTE), the states and local authorities are required to mandatorily disclose the status of seats reserved for the EWS and disadvantaged categories. However, this was not being done by the north, south and east municipal corporations in Delhi.
He therefore demanded that they make all data about the availability of seats and fill-rate for every school for the past five academic years public, by publishing it on their website. He also demanded that they upload all circulars stating the timelines, rules, process, documents required, procedures and grievance redressal process, along with the address and contact details of the officers concerned on the portal.
Lottery admission system is need of the hour
He also demanded that the entire process be made online by means of a centralised lottery on the lines of those being run by the governments of Delhi, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Maharashtra.
The petition had also claimed that while the new admission season was beginning, there was no way for parents to find out the number of vacant seats in their “neighbourhood school due to non-transparency and unaccountability in the affairs of the schools run by the municipal corporations”.
It had alleged that “no public notice/circular is put up on the notice boards or portals of the schools,” which infringes the fundamental right of students to education.
No system of maintaining data
Speaking to The Wire about what prompted him to file the petition, Kundu said he had been working in this field for the last two-three years and believes that the biggest problem is indifference. He wanted to expose how the civic bodies lacked a system to promote data sharing.
“In order to collect data you need to have a basic system in place. If it has to be collected through files, then the standard operating procedure would be that you have to fill this form, it has to be deposited here. If it is through a portal, then this would be your login and this is where you will deposit it and this would be the format. So you will need to establish the systems, for data will not come out of thin air. And here you have huge chunks of data coming in, so it would have to be in some format. The system does not exist because they do not have interest in it,” he said.
Kundu also observed that a solution to the problem was not difficult to find, because one already existed as the Delhi government was maintaining similar data. “There are two types of private schools in Delhi. One type is recognised by the Delhi government and the other by the three municipal corporations. Now there are roughly 1,650 private schools recognised by the Delhi government and their data is in the public domain. There is a portal of Delhi government which has been there for the last four-five years, which is updated in real time and has information on these schools. So if a school does not comply, they fall into the defaulter category and notices are issued immediately.”
No data on admission to about 11,200 seats
Stating that there are about 28,000 EWS students in the 1,650 Delhi government-recognised schools, Kundu said the problem existed with the civic body-recognised schools. “There are 1,029 schools recognised by the three civic bodies. Out of these, we have data on some for 2015-16 provided by the National University for Education Planning and Administration as per which the seats available under EWS category is project to be 10,504 in 947 schools while this data for the rest of the 82 schools is not known. But considering the average number of seats per school my sense is that there would be about 11,200 seats available annually in all these schools.”
“This means that the provision, if implemented, can potentially benefit more than 11,200 children from the economically weaker section and disadvantaged groups every year,” he said, adding that that was why his PIL was just that “make the data public” about these schools. “It can be through a portal or any means but just make it readily available for those who it is meant for.”
Only courts can make civic bodies budge
Kundu realises that without court intervention it would be impossible to make the civic bodies comply because of their indifference. “As far as education is concerned, the three municipal corporations do have a portal in which there is a column titled ‘nursery admissions’ but if you click on it, it says ‘not opened yet’. I have also mentioned this in my PIL. Last year these links on the portals of all the three corporations were down all through the admission season from January to April.”
Noting that the civic bodies are either not serious about the issue or that they have something to hide, he said, “I have been tracking this portal for the last 13 months and it has been down all through.”
Kundu said that he had also filed an RTI application asking for information on EWS admissions, but he received evasive and indirect replies. “When I asked for school-wise numbers for EWS seats, which is mandated as per the law, the reply was ‘as per the rules’. Similarly, when I asked for reimbursement to schools, the reply was ‘this information cannot be disclosed’. I said that some grievances must have been filed for the violations and sought the action and they said ‘this information cannot be disclosed’. They had a similar answer when I asked for details of their officers inspecting the schools and filing the reports.”
As for the schools recognised by the Delhi government, he said they were all online and they have a hassle free admission process through lottery. “Also since they have gone online the data is updated regularly, that is happening by default. But they have only filled up about 90% of the seats. However, that is due to the order preference of the parents. For the remaining 300-odd seats the process was offline this time and would remain so in the coming year. There are several administrative reasons for that and they are trying to overcome that in the coming year.”