Friday, April 4, 2014

Child with special needs distinct from disadvantage group under RTE

Dear Colleagues,

Please refer to my earlier blog post dated 26 Feb 2014 titled  "Disability angle in Nursery admission norms - HC issues notice to centre".

In the instant case, a parent of a child with disability challenged the inclusion of child with disability under the 25% quota of disadvantaged section which meant that there were to compete with non-disabled children from weaker sections within that 25%.  He argued that he got his ward admitted with great difficulty to a Delhi school last year. The child could not progress and was neglected on account of lack of proper attention and infrastructure.

He further submitted that the number of schools equipped with infrastructure and personnel to handle these students were very few. The nature of the guidelines is such that these children have very little chances of getting admission in these institutions.

The Division Bench of Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice R.V. Easwar of Delhi High Court 
directed the Union and Delhi Governments to treat “children with special needs” (CWSN) separate from those belonging to the economically weaker sections (EWS) and the disadvantaged group for admissions in pre-primary and other classes while hearing the above public interest litigation challenging an amendment to the Right to Education Act and a paragraph of the Delhi Government guidelines for nursery admissions that clubbed these students with those belonging to economically sections and the disadvantaged group.

Allowing the plea, the Bench said: “This Court is therefore of the opinion that the petitioner’s argument is merited and has to prevail. First, the imperative of Section 26 [of The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995] is that the Government has to ensure that all CWSN are given access to education till age 18.”

The Court held that the right to free, compulsory education to CWSN guaranteed by Section 26 of the PWD Act read with Section 3 (3) of the RTE Act is in no manner affected or diluted by the definition in Section 2 (d) of the RTE Act. This would mean that the State necessarily has to ensure the admission of all CWSN and can not limit them in 25% quota.

The court said that a close analysis of the provisions of the PWD  Act with respect to educational rights of CWSN reveals that the Parliament always intended that the children covered by  that enactment were entitled to free and compulsory education till they attain the age of 18 years, by virtue of Section 26. The wide nature of this right is underlined by the fact that it is not subject to a minimum or maximum quota of any kind whatsoever. Whilst the addressee of this right is the State, unlike the RTE Act, which vests rights in individuals, the content of the obligation upon the State cannot, in any way, be diluted. Any such reading would render Section 26 hollow, as mere rhetoric. This is neither the meaning that appears from the text of Section 26, which is clear and without qualification in its mandate to “ensure that every child with a disability has access to free education”, nor its context to ensure the inclusion of CWSN into society through education. In addition, Section 39 – which is located in Chapter VI – and mandates a minimum 3% quota for “persons with disabilities” in government and government-aided educational institutions cannot in any manner be read as limiting the right under Section 26. To hold that Section 39 exhausts the legal obligation under Section 26 would be to conflate two independent sections, and render the latter hollow. Such an interpretation cannot be countenanced. Rather, Section 39 is only one of the measures that contributes to the broader directive of Section 26, leaving the State to work out other mechanisms to achieve the stated and mandatory end. 

Court further clarified that Section 39, in essence, covers higher education, in respect of persons with disabilities who cannot claim right to free and compulsory education. In those institutions that cater to higher and professional education, the quota of 3% is mandated.

The court said that bracketing CWSN with other ‘disadvantaged groups’ – under the terms of the 2013 order – substantially diminishes their relative chances of admission. This relative disadvantage compared to other non-disabled persons, which is the very issue sought to be remedied, is in fact perpetuated by this classification. Thus, granting parity in respect of educational benefits in this case translates to a distinct classification.

The court highlighted that in order for the education of CWSN to be effective, rather than merely counting attendance, the infrastructure and facilities in these schools must match-up to their intake. Clearly, that is not the case, even by the figures provided by the GNCT itself. The quality of  education provided to these children comes into doubt, and absent any clear reporting mechanism, the issue is plunged into further darkness. This is keeping aside the fact that even considering the number of students enrolled (on paper), a majority are still excluded and are not enrolled even on paper.

Referring to the census 2011 figures and the number of CWSN admitted in the govt. aided or run special schools, the court said, "the magnitude of the challenge becomes clear from these figures. Not only are our public institutions unable to cater to CWSN because of lack of adequate infrastructure, but moreover, there remains incoherence in the reporting itself. Despite the clear mandate of Section 26, not only can it not be said that all CWSN have access to education, but rather, a majority of CWSN are not in school, and even this fact cannot be attributed to exact figures, given the absence of a comprehensive and accurate reporting mechanism. The entire challenge is thus relegated to the background, without any attempt to measure the statistics comprehensively, in order to pave the path forward.

The Court directed the Delhi Government to “create a list of all public and private educational institutions catering to CWSN. This list shall be created zone wise. It shall include full details as to the nature of disability the institutions are able to cater to, the facilities available, whether residential or day-boarding, and the contact details for the concerned authority in that institution in case of any clarifications”.


The Court also directed it to create a nodal agency under the authority of the Department of Education (DoE) for the processing of all applications pertaining to admission of CWSN.

“This nodal agency shall structure a single form to be utilised by parents and guardians of CWSN for admissions into public and private institutions, including all relevant details required for the purposes of admission,” the Bench said.


The court purposefully  did not dispose off the case. The case has been kept pending for Action taken report from the Delhi Govt. within four weeks. The matter will be next listed on 07th May 2014. 


Related news coverage in media: 

IANS  |  New Delhi  April 3, 2014 Last Updated at 23:06 IST

The Delhi High Court Thursday directed the city government to ensure that all children with special needs in the capital are admitted to schools equipped with infrastructure and personnel to handle them.

A division bench of Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice R.V. Easwar said the authorities have overlooked the needs of such children, and directed the creation of a nodal agency to take care of the modalities for selecting schools equipped to handle disabilities - whether blindness, speech impairment, autism etc - as per the child's special requirement.

The current nursery admission guidelines, including the neighbourhood criteria and the point-based admission system, will not be considered while admitting children with special needs, the court said.

The court said the Lt. Governor's admission guidelines was illegal to the extent that it clubbed children with special needs with those from economically weaker sections (EWS)and other disadvantaged groups.

The court was hearing a plea which challenged the guidelines issued Dec 18, 2013 whereby disabled children were clubbed with EWS children in a common 25 percent quota for admission in nursery classes.

Earlier, up to three percent seats for children with special needs were reserved.


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