Govt decides to introduce RTE Bill in Budget session

WITH the current year dotted with elections, the UPA government has decided to introduce the Right to Education (RTE) Bill in the Budget session of Parliament. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who overrode the reservations expressed by a high-level group about the need for a Central legislation, would like the Bill to be introduced now. The ministry of human resource development (HRD) is in the process of preparing a Cabinet note, which is due to be taken up for consideration in the next two weeks. The Bill may find a mention in finance minister P Chidambaram's Budget speech too. A working committee headed by A K Rath, secretary, school education and literacy, HRD ministry, is finalising the draft of the legislation. The RTE will provide the blueprint for making systemic changes in the elementary education sector. The ministry is clear that the RTE is not another way to garner more funds for elementary education, but an opportunity to reform and rationalise the system. The promise of systemic reforms will also help to counter the growing lobby for the privatisation of school education. The private school lobby has consistently called for the opening up of the education sector, allowing "for-profit' organisations to play a role on the grounds that government schools can't provide quality education. A legislation geared to providing quality and norms for it would counter this move. Both issues of increased fiscal outlay and legal responsibility are being addressed. Many of the expenses of operationalising the RTE are being taken care of by the funding for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and teacher's education. A more realistic and lower expenditure bill is being arrived at by dovetailing the expenses of the Right to Education Bill, and the SSA and teachers' education. The fear of increased volume of public interest litigations (PIL) mandating the Centre to sanction and fund infrastructure far beyond its financial capability is being addressed by setting realistic targets for states to roll out the implementation of the Bill. For the enabling right to education, it has been a long and arduous journey. More than five years have gone since Parliament passed the 86th Constitutional Amendment giving every child between the age of 6 and 14 years the right to free and compulsory education (Article 21 A). However, Article 21 A could not be notified as the enabling legislation had not been enacted. Work on the RTE was started by the NDA government soon after Parliament passed the Constitutional Amendment Bill in December 2002. The first delay came when the NDA was voted out of power in May 2004. Work on the RTE was then taken up by the Kapil Sibal committee of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE). The financial implications for the Sibal draft was worked out by the then National Institute of Education Planning and Administration (NIEPA). As per these estimates, the government would require to spend a minimum of Rs 3,21,196 crore over six years to implement the legislation