On 26th September 2018, the Supreme Court upheld the use of Aadhaar for availing any government benefit or subsidy but made the use of Aadhaar non-mandatory for the purpose of education for those in the age-group of 6-14 years. Prior to this ruling, a number of government departments had made Aadhaar mandatory for availing education and related benefits, which had an adverse impact on scholarships availed by students from disadvantaged and weaker sections across many states. However, the present ruling overruled the use of Aadhaar as a mandatory identification for education-related purposes and stated that those seeking admissions in elementary education or availing any kind of scholarship / government benefit in the age-group 6-14 years need not have Aadhaar cards. The Supreme Court ruling strictly prohibited the mandatory use of Aadhaar for admissions (Judgement Section 322(c)) and clarified that the government can ask for Aadhaar from children for availing welfare schemes only with the consent of the parent (Section 322(e) of the Supreme Court Judgement). It also laid emphasis on the fact that “no child shall be denied benefit of any of these schemes (welfare schemes) if, for some reason she is not able to produce the Aadhaar number and the benefit shall be given by verifying the identity on the basis of any other documents” (Section 322(f) of the Supreme Court Judgement). The ruling has serious implications for implementation of one of the provisions of Right to Education Act, a fundamental right, in Karnataka.
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE Act) 2009, also called the Right to Education Act (RTE) was the 86th Constitutional Amendment introduced in the Parliament in 2002 and passed in 2009, aiming to universalise elementary education (up to Class 8) and making first eight years of elementary education a justiciable right. The RTE Act specifies the duties and responsibilities of the appropriate Governments, local authority, schools and parents in providing free and compulsory education, and sharing of financial and other responsibilities between the Central and the State Governments. It defines the schooling-related entitlements of a child including basic physical infrastructure and teachers, and the responsibilities of the school in terms of making the child free from fear, trauma and anxiety and helping the child to express her/his views comprehensively. These school-related norms are applicable to all schools, irrespective of their managements. It banned screening of children for admissions and payment of capitation fees, regularised teacher training and qualification and put the onus of non-enrolment of children on the Government.
In addition to all this, it also added a component of social responsibility of the private unaided school to act as a neighbourhood school for those from disadvantaged and weaker sections. The Act mandated private unaided schools to admit at least 25% of their total intake from the disadvantaged and weaker sections, for which the state government would compensate them based on certain defined criteria (different for each state). Private schools aided by the government have been mandated to do this even before the RTE Act was implemented. This particular provision has drawn the maximum amount of publicity in mainstream media as large number of articles and news coverage talked about how this is infringing the right of the private school management, how this will dilute teaching-learning in classroom as the children from “lower” socio-economic backgrounds have not attended pre-primary schools, how the state government is not reimbursing the entire amount of per-child expenditure in the private schools, how private schools are defining “free education” as no tuition fees but not providing free uniforms and textbooks, etc. A number of states are yet to streamline admission procedures related to this provision. In many states, admissions are adhoc and no proper procedures have been defined. Karnataka is one of the first states where admissions to the 25% RTE quota, as this particular provision is being called colloquially, has been streamlined and now conducted using an online software.
Karnataka introduced admissions under RTE in private unaided schools in 2012-13 using a manual system wherein applications were submitted, shortlisted and finally selected at each individual school. This process was converted into a centralised online system in 2015-16. For the academic year 2015-16, the applicants had to submit different documents for age and address verification so that the software could shortlist neighbourhood schools for the applicant, based on their address. This software allowed for applicants to submit any government-approved identification proof for date of birth and address. It also exempted those applying in the high-priority categories (street children, orphans, HIV children, children of migrant workers) from submitting any documentation proof. This override feature in the software ensured some degree of inclusion of the most marginalised sections.
From 2016-17 onwards, use of Aadhaar ID or Enrolment Number (indicating that the applicant has applied for an Aadhaar ID) was made mandatory. Accordingly, controls were set-up in the online application form that did not allow the applicants to proceed to the main form without giving the Aadhaar ID / Enrolment No. When provision of Aadhaar card for RTE admissions was made mandatory, the use of Aadhaar for availing government benefits was still being debated in the Supreme Court. The idea behind converting the system online and using Aadhaar for these admissions, as indicated by the Government officials, was to ensure quick and easy verification of address and approve / disqualify an application if address given was wrong or beyond the prescribed geographical location of schools (as required by the Act). For the Government, making Aadhaar cards mandatory for admissions had made their processes easy, simple, efficient and quick. But, it did translate the process into an exclusionary one wherein the most marginalised and belonging to high-priority category could not access the provision if either they did not have an Aadhaar card or had a different address on it. Using a completely online system for applications is also exclusionary in itself as it assumes a certain level of technological access and computer literacy but that discussion calls for another article.
It was expected that in the light of the latest ruling on use of Aadhaar for admissions, the Government of Karnataka will modify their process and/or software for RTE so that there is no violation of the ruling. This would have meant either use of alternate identity documents or a different approach for address verifications. It does have implications in terms of planning and executing the mass-scale exercise and in some sense, retracing one’s steps and spending time in redesigning the approach but it is extremely necessary in order to make it an inclusive process, especially for the high priority categories. However, for the RTE admissions for the academic year 2019-20 in private unaided schools in Karnataka, the state government continues to use Aadhaar ID or Enrolment number as mandatory identity documents. This continued usage of Aadhaar ID/Enrolment number forces parents to enroll their children and to make it worse, the enrolment has to be in the same city where they live, as this is also used to establish the criteria of neighbourhood residence required for the RTE admissions. In doing so, the state government, in some sense, is violating the Right to Education as well as the judgement which clearly states that the government cannot deny benefit to any child for any of the welfare schemes (under Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act) for non-possession of Aadhaar Id or Enrolment Number. This also raises question about how the state government is misinterpreting the judgement to suit their convenience. What the state needs to ensure is that they link the RTE database with other existing databases (e.g. Voter Id or Ration Card) in the system, and not just with Aadhaar database, so that no eligible child is denied their right to application under this provision in the state.
Puja Minni, Research Adviser, CBPS
Jyotsna Jha, Director, CBPS
- Note – An abridged version of this article was published in Prajavani on 31st May 2019.