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August 12, 2009

A revolutionary Bill

At the very heart of democracy lies the concept of equal opportunity for all to try and attain individual goals and aspire towards a better quality of life. Yet inequality of birth and an individual’s position in the societal hierarchy results in some children having far lesser opportunities at self advancement than the children of greater gods. Thus the goal of every society which professes adherence to democratic ideals must be to create a level playing field for each citizen and empower the socially weak to overcome handicaps of birth and economic status. One of the greatest of handicaps is lack of education. This is what the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, recently passed by the Lok Sabha, is seeking to address. The wonder is that it has taken so long for this revolutionary Bill to be enacted and concrete steps taken towards Gandhiji’s vision of universal elementary education, first enunciated by him in 1937. The delay is even more disconcerting given the fact that in 2002 the NDA government through a constitutional amendment changed right to education from a directive principle to a fundamental right. However, it being a question of late better than never one must laud the current Government at the Centre for ensuring that such a Bill has finally seen the light of day and look forward to its successful implementation.

The objectives of the Bill are high indeed. The cynical observer familiar with the way India works might even deem them Utopian! As per its stipulations, every child of whatever economic standing, aged between 6 and 14, can demand school education in the immediate neighbourhood. It is incumbent upon a designated government officer to ensure that the child is provided elementary education in a government or private school. Various other stipulations such as payment of fees by the government if a child’s parents cannot pay the fees, compulsory reservation of 25 per cent of seats in private schools for economically weaker students etc. complement the basic objective. The Bill also gives added teeth to NGOs and concerned citizens by enabling members of the public to complain of cases of violation of the law to the “neighbourhood” government officer. But the constraints that necessitated the enactment of such a Bill still remain, making actual translation into practice as difficult as it has always been. The fact that education is in the Concurrent List makes the task of implementation somewhat complicated, especially in the matter of cost sharing. Also, the phenomenon of a child being just another breadwinner for the family persists in our society, a constraint extremely difficult to overcome. The relevance of the Bill, and hopefully its success, ultimately lies with the general public. particularly concerned citizens as well as Non Government Organisations working in the field. ASSAM TRIBUNE

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