Holding that minority institutions were outside the ambit of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, the Supreme Court on Tuesday said they cannot be obligated to reserve 25% seats for students from socially and economically weaker sections of the society.
A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice RM Lodha said the Act will not apply to aided or unaided minority institutions. The court, however, upheld the constitutional validity of the social welfare legislation enacted with constitutional amendments which places an obligation on unaided private schools to reserve 25% seats for such wards.
“While discussing the validity of clause (5) of Article15 of the Constitution, we have held that members of communities other than the minority community which has established the school cannot be forced upon a minority institution because that may destroy the minority character of the school. In our view, if the 2009 Act is made applicable to minority schools, aided or unaided, the right of the minorities under Article30(1) of the Constitution will be abrogated. Therefore, the 2009Act
in so far it is made applicable to minority schools referred in clause (1) of Article 30 of the Constitution is ultra vires the Constitution,” the judges said.
The bench upheld the validity of Articles 15(5) and 21A, by virtue of which unaided private schools are also obligated to reserve 25% seats for students from weaker sections.
It, however, clarified that minority institutions could not be asked to do so since the Act did not operate on them in this respect.
The bench, also comprising Justices AK Patnaik, SJ Mukhopadhaya, Dipak Misra and FMI Kalifulla, said Article 21 (A) does not alter the basic structure of the Constitution.
The bunch of petitions by Karnataka-based institutions had contended that a three-judge bench ruling on the validity of the RTE Act did not deal with the constitutional validity of these provisions in its April 2012 verdict.
In the 2012 verdict, a three-judge Bench, by a 2:1 majority verdict, had shot down a challenge to the validity of the RTE, consequently obligating private unaided schools to reserve seats.
The dissenting judgement by Justice KS Radhakrishnan, however, had held that the mandate under the RTE Act providing for reservation of seats was not constitutionally valid, and thus the unaided schools, whether majority or minority, could not be compelled to earmark 25% seats in their institutions.
On August 23, 2013, a three-judge bench had referred the issue to a five-judge bench because