Right to Education Act and the Disabled

The Right to Education Act is by any account a landmark legislation (take just one: cost, which is around 15 billion dollars a year). Details of the legislation and amendments are available on the PRS site here.

I did an evolving series, last week, on one controversy surrounding the Bill’s passage — whether it is fair to disabled children. In chronology, the articles are here, here and here.

The question which I am a little unsure about is this legal point. The Act defines “disadvantaged” children as belonging to SC/ST/OBC… or suffering any other kind of disadvantage. The word “disability”, mentioned in the draft, is not there in the Act that was passed. The effect of this is that disabled children do not explicitly get to avail a 25 per cent quota in private schools. Mr. Sibal subsequently (and after the PM spoke to him) made a statement in the Lok Sabha before the Bill was voted on, saying that disabled children were included in the definition of disadvantage. How binding is this? Mr. Sibal says that the onus is on the state governments to define “disadvantage”. Is this accurate?

Relevant Links:

*Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, 2009 – Synopsis of Lok Sabha debate (pp.18-82) Kapil Sibal’s reply: pp.79-82.
*Text of Kapil Sibal’s reply to the debate: [from p.247] [His remarks on the definition of disadvantaged group can be found on p.252-253]

Written by
Vinay Sitapati
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  • a relevant (and much-criticised) House of Lords ruling is Pepper v Hart. Not sure if there is a ruling indian precedent on the use of minister's statement in the house to interpret a legislation. pepper v hart said it is permissible – the criticism is that it allows the executive to guide interpretation of parliament's words – hitherto an exclusively judicial function. so, the question before a court when this case comes up will be – can it take kapil sibal's interpretation into account?

  • Welcome to the blog. Please correct me if I am wrong but Sibal's reply regarding whether disadvantage already includes disability is not very clear. He separately dealt with disadvantage being defined by the states and how the disabled have been taken care of in the Act but he did not specifically say anywhere that disadvantage includes the disabled. The only reference to both words in the same sentence on page 253 appears to be in a different context where he was talking generally about disability in a broad sense and not specifically with reference to the physically/mentally disabled. I suppose we will have to wait for the model rules to be framed to know what he had in mind in this regard.

    Disadvantage being broadly defined under 2(d), it could easily accomodate disability but I do not see how it could be binding on the states to issue such a notification unless the Center were to direct them to that effect under 34(1).