“We can say for sure that 90 percent of certificates that people are getting from SDMs are fake. Parents who come to our school to get their children admitted under EWS and disadvantaged group (DG) live in DDA flats and speak impeccable English. They drive to school in cars and then claim the quota. This is a fraud,” said Father J A Carvalho principal Father Agnel School, Gautam Nagar.
Source : Sunday Indian
The quota for the poor, which is only a part of the overall quota, is being touted as the most revolutionary part of the law. After all what can warm your heart more than the picture of an eager, studious impoverished child sitting next to a elite kid and learning how to doodle on an iPad. Most people in India, disembark at this station and say, ‘I’ve seen enough, RTE is a must, Sibal rocks”.
The intuitive appeal of quota for the poor
The economic quota has a lot of appeal amongst the middle class. I suppose thats a good thing because it shows that compassion is widespread. I also think this support is more due to the anomalies in the primary social justice platform of caste based quotas rather than any merit in the economic quota.
Follow me :
Lets say I introduce you to a child. You meet him and find that he is poor, coming from an abusive family, drunk father, you find a sparkle in his eyes. If I asked you if you would agree to provide him with a free education inside a EWS quota in a good quality private school, chances are you would instantly agree to it!
If I tell you that I will send you ten kids each year, and you have to admit each of them without any questions. You are required to submit to my judgment that they are children who deserve the EWS quota. Will you participate with the same enthusiasm ? Why not ? Dont you trust me ?
The reason you dont excited is because, in case 1, you are allowed to assess the circumstances of the individual candidates. In case 2, you are forced to accept a classification made by the government and certified by officials. Those schools under the ambit of RTE do not have the luxury of case 1.
Does this mean you can never have a system of group benefits ? I think you can but only if the group is subjected to ‘strict scrutiny’. Can we have such a group for “economically poor” and institute a quota for them ?
Economic poor as a group
I think we should be very wary of economic status as the exclusive basis for membership to a benefit group. Just a few feet past the poor-kid-doodling-on-iPad scenario lie deadly hazards. Although we can all instantly identify the kids picking garbage, are we sure we can identify other types. Is a painter poor ? Carpenter ? Electrician ? Auto Driver ? As an eminent social media personality on twitter said “poor compared to whom ?”.
Lets take a more realistic example. First wipe out all the pieces you read in the media from your heads. India is hardly a country which is neatly divided into the iPad toting vs Cardboard box dwelling. Reality is the wide spectrum in the lower income group. How will the economic quota work for them ?
Can a situation arise that a hard working medical sales representatives child is denied over a lazy cashier’s son ? All other things being equal, the lazy cashier’s son not only manages to displace the medical reps son, but also gets a completely free education. Wont this be the most unfair punishment for hard work ? Indeed when the alternatives get closer to each other the standard utilitarian arguments for such a quota collapses.
Another problem is that it is very hard to measure and certify the income at a such a fine grained level, for anyone but a salaried employee. For the self employed or those in family business, you can show any income you want. Because of the stakes involved some may even forgo or book income differently until they manage to place their child. What about the BPL cards ? Lets see.
According to the analysis, 63 per cent of BPL card-holders in Andhra Pradesh are non-poor families, 52.3 per cent in Karnataka, 35.5 per cent in Rajasthan, 30.5 per cent in West Bengal and 25.5 per cent in Uttar Pradesh.
For instance, in Andhra Pradesh, 66.3 per cent of households with BPL cards own more than 5 acres of farm land, 30.9 per cent in Uttarakhand and 29.4 per cent in Orissa. In Karnataka, 23.3 per cent of BPL cardholders have motor vehicles while 15.8 per cent have TVs and refrigerators.
Ram said estimates suggest that about 44 pc (27 million) of the total 60 million BPL cards are with non-poor households. On the other hand, about three-fifths of the poorest do not have a BPL card.
A typical socialist response would be – “fine lets tighten BPL cards”. This is the kind of thinking that has got India into such a mess that even liberals are forced to spend their holidays overseas. The very idea that you can build a government machine so large and so intrusive that it can accurately map every aspect of your life and issue a certificate – is abhorrent to me.
Economic status is temporary but a quota is permanent.
One of the most valuable insights into the thinking of the elites who rule us was in this exchange between Kapil Sibal and Karan Thapar.
Karan Thapar: But at the moment, the situation facing a poor student all the way to class 8 is that if he wants to study further, he either has to find the money…
Kapil Sibal: Karan, the government is going to be there… and the government is going to make sure that the children of disadvantaged community continue to get private school education.
It simply does not occur to either of them that the poor can escape EWS status independently. Its possible.
Under the RTE Act, a child enters Class 1 on EWS quota. To avail of this quota, the child has to produce an income certificate. The Delhi Act says :
Section 6 -A : For admission under weaker section, child has to produce income certificate from Tahslidar or above , or BPL ration card, or AAY ration card. ( 1 Lakh limit – demands to extend to 2 Lakh)
Section 6-B : Parents have to produce a self declaration on affidavit every year for continuation of free seat. However, student cannot be expelled if they dont produce the affidavit without permission from Director Education.
The issue is what happens when a child is no longer in EWS, maybe the father went back to work or got a job. The student can either produce a fake affidavit and peace prevails for all. Or the student fails to produce an affidavit. All hell breaks loose then.
The school cannot expel him – because it is illegal specifically under Sec 6B of Delhi Act and also Sec 16 of the RTE act which specifically debars a school from expelling or even detaining a child. The child wont pay the fee because even though he escaped EWS he cant go from paying zero to paying Rs 2,500 pm/ overnight. The state wont pay because presumably the affidavit is a required document. The whole scenario hangs in a limbo.
Lets see the reverse case : What happens if a childs family falls into poverty ?
The RTE act is wildly crazy in its insistence on an arbitrary input at Class – 1. This instantly takes out 92% of school going children from availing the quota. Let me clue you in, you see all the photos in the media. None of them look like they will be even eligible for private schools, most will continue to attend the same poorly equipped govt school from where their pictures were taken.
So what happens is if a family enters poverty or which missed the bus in class – 1,
- If you are in class – 2, no matter how poor you are you cannot knock on a private school’s door.
- Once you get/sneak into class – 1, no matter what your status is afterwards, the poor class-2 student above cant take your seat.
RTE is not just reckless in wording, even the social goals are unlikely to meet with any success. Grand anomalies, perverse incentives to lie, and moral hazards will make even the most earnest participants gag.
So whats the solution ? Next post. Hint – focus on govt schools.
Like these critiques ? We have several excellent pieces on social media.
- Sudhirs excellent take on arbitrary clauses – “The devil is in the detail“
- KV SarmaJ expresses concerns about fate of initiatives- “The implementation question“
- Dilip’s absolutely stunning piece on infirmities in the judgment.”A question of severability“
Repeat – main stream media and columnists who depend on the main stream media have not even touched this subject.
Say a vast, diverse, secular country was suddenly subject to a law that profoundly impacted the entire population, made a groundbreaking entry into the domain of the private, cleaved the entire population along religious lines by granting special benefits and exemptions, reinforced caste and communal identities – among toddlers, placed a tight inspector raj on private life endeavors. All in a single amorphously worded bill called the RTE (Right To Education).
Q1 ) Would’nt you expect the media to atleast read such a bill before reporting ? It isnt a leaked exclusive document, it has been available on the internet for months now.
Q2) Would’nt you expect a wide spectrum of opinion in the media given the width and depth of this bill ? Can all media report in total unison on such a wide ranging bill ?
Q3) Would’nt you expect them to atleast report the truth about this bill ? Sure the media can report the truth in unison, but can all of them trumpet the counterfactual in unison?
I believe this nation has just been subjected to a propaganda exercise with little parallel in world history.
I am just going to lay the facts on the table. You may conclude that I exaggerate, that’s okay – I just ask you to read the post first.
- We are this boy’s true friends, please read on
Exhibit A : Synchronized reporting of a falsehood
You may skip to the next section, if you already get the point. I simply had to document evidence of this lock-step media synchrony even though it made the blog post longer.
The falsehood is that the 25% quota envisaged in the RTE bill is for the poor. By drowning the public in a deluge of misinformation, they have softened up the country for the initial shock. How can anyone oppose steps to help the poor. The truth will be delivered in careful doses.
In this section, I have collected reports from most major print and TV Channels. Note that none of them bothered to even broach the obvious question of “So exactly who are the poor beneficiaries”.
Here is a sampling. Sorry for the jarring colours, the idea is to show how deeply and uniformly the media portrayed the story.
Supreme Court stamp on Right to Education: Poor students to study free in many private schools (Economic Times)
A landmark judgement on Thursday opened the doors for hundreds of thousands of poor students to study free in many private schools across the country. The judgement upheld the constitutional validity of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, which provides for 25% quota for poor students in all schools except unaided minority schools.
SC upholds law to reserve 25% seats in private schools for poor (Times Of India)
Even if 25% seats in these schools are opened up to the poor, it will only be a drop in the ocean compared to enormous numbers of underprivileged children in the country.
Reserve 25% seats for poor, SC tells pvt schools (Hindustan Times)
The court said its order would take effect immediately but with most schools having completed admissions for the current academic year, poor students will be able to benefit from the judgment from 2013.
SC: Even pvt schools have to admit poor (Indian Express)
The judgment, authored by Chief Justice Kapadia, dismissed complaints from unaided private schools that it was unconstitutional to compel them to reserve at least 25 per cent seats for poor children from their neighbourhood,
The schools are now open (The Hindu Editorial)
The unsuccessful challenge to the Act, which went into effect on April 1, 2010, came from unaided private school managements who are required to set apart 25 per cent seats for poor children.
SC Strikes a blow for inclusive RTE (Firstpost)
Friday’s Supreme Court judgment upholding the applicability of the Right to Education Act (RTE) even to unaided schools is a strong statement on inclusiveness and desegregation. Over time, this will do much to remove caste and other forms of bigotry and discrimination while strengthening the foundations for a strong modern democracy where no
Supreme Court upholds every child’s right to education (DNA)
The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the constitutional validity of the Right to Education Act, 2009, which mandates 25% free seats to poor children up to the age of 14 in government and private aided and unaided schools (but not in unaided minority institutions) uniformly across the country.
SC upholds validity (Business Standard)
The Supreme Court today upheld the constitutional validity of the Right to Education Act that reserves 25 per cent free seats to poor students in government and private unaided schools, except minority institutions.
Writes of passage (Hindustan Times / Barkha Dutt)
But as we watched the quota policy get horrendously trapped in competitive politics, didn’t we say we would rather have an economic criterion for reservations than it being caste-driven? Well here, for the first time there is such a basis.
The law requires schools, both public and private, to give one quarter of their places to low-income children.Wall Street Journal (Indian)
Principals nervous over reservation for poor (Hindustan Times)
A game changer ..25 per cent seats for poor and neighbourhood children in private unaided schools (Deccan Herald)
Residential Schools, Convents not bound to reserve seats for the poor (Indian Express)
RTE widely acclaimed by academicians..which mandates 25 percent free seats to the poor in private (Newstrack)
NDTV RTE FAQ .. mandates 25 per cent free seats to the poor in ..Poor students from neighbourhood areas have to be admitted, based on a lottery system. (NDTV)
Unaided schools must give 25% free seats..providing for reservation of 25 percent seats for poor children in all..(IBNLIVE / CNNIBN)
Integrating poor, privileged is a challenge .. the RTE clause to admit 25% students from impoverished background will transform the Indian (Indian Express)
Schools taught to leave no poor behind (Indian Express) This is the winner.
Exhibit B : The facts about Right to Education
We have seen what the media told you, now lets see what the facts are.
Who are the 25% in the as described by the RTE Bill ?
The Central RTE Bill 2009 categorically states that there are two categories. Roughly they are income based and identity based. I dont want to rehash this blog post where I have analyzed the central rules. Did the media not read this bill ? (Update : See clarification on prev blog post )
How does Kendriya Vidyalaya apply RTE to the poor ?
The Kendriya Vidyalaya Sanghatan has put out their Admissions Guidelines including RTE modalities here (DOC file)
From Sec 5-A Step 2: Out of 41 Seats in Std 1, 10 seats are reserved as per the following rules.
6 Seats to SC + 3 Seats to ST + 1 Seat to economically disadvantaged (poor) + disabled from all categories including SC/ST + all other social classes.
Now Kendriya Vidyalaya is not a private institution but the fact of the matter is their distribution is accepted as a total compliance with RTE requirements. ONE, repeat only ONE seat is determined by your being poor. Now what did the media tell you again ? It is not as if the media didnt notice this – The Hindu even lauded KV as taking the “lead in RTE Compliance“. Yet totally projects RTE as being for the poor it in its editorial page.
What are guidelines for Andhra Pradesh to help the poor ?
Andhra Pradesh was one of the early states to notify RTE rules (Notification PDF). Lets see how they plan to break up the 25% quota.
From Section 9, Clause 4 (page 9)
(4) The following order of preference shall be followed by the schools covered by sub. Clauses II, III, IV of Clause (n) of Section 2 of the Act in admitting the children referred to in clauses (b) and (c) of sub ection (1) of section 12 of the said Act.
Disadvantaged Groups : Orphans, HIV+, Disabled = 5%
SC = 10%
ST = 4%
Weaker Sections (others viz., BC, Minorities, OCs (whose annual income does not exceed Rs. 60,000/- per annum) = 6%
Not only that, Andhra Pradesh has a overflow model. For example : you cant find sufficient numbers in Orphans/HIV+ that number would be added to the next group SC. Only as a last resort would it overflow into the economic based group. To be honest, even that isnt purely economic based as it only includes poor from upper castes (not the stone breaker, garbage heap poor). Here is another clause for minority aided institutions.
Note 3, under Clause 9.4
3) In Minority institutions, all candidates belonging to minority concerned should be considered for filling first. After exhausting applications of Minorities the left over seats may be filled in the order of ST, SC and BC.
Also note that residence proof requirements are Ration Card, Electricity Bill, House Tax, Land Patta – hardly the kind of documents traffic light children possess (which a senior editor cites in her essay).
Media eats and roots in Delhi, so maybe they werent aware ?
Here is a special notification (PDF) in the Delhi Govt Gazette specifically addressing the free seats for the Economically Weaker Section and Disadvantage (sic) group.
Section 2 (c)
Childen belonging to Weaker Section : Parents whose total income is less than one lakh and have been staying in Delhi for the past three years.
Children belonging to Disadvantaged Group : SC/ST/ Non Creamy Layer OBC/ Disabled / Special Needs
The operative clause is “Weaker” and “Disadvantaged” – which clearly means you cant just select Weaker (Poor) and ignore the Disadvantaged. Lets dig a bit further, maybe there are income certificates required even for the disadvantaged, we surely would’nt want to miss that.
Section 6 (Page 5, sub clause a and b)
Documents for Weaker Section : Income Certificate issued by revenue office not below rank of Tahsildar, or BPL ration card (Yellow) or EEY ration card (Pink)
Documents for Disadvantage : Certificate issued by revenue officer not below Tahsildar or any other competent authority. Presumably this is nothing but a caste certificate for the little toddler.
So in effect the Delhi rules are no different from the other states. Even if not expressly specified, lawsuits from NGOs await any attempt to deviate from it. (Update : see clarification on prev blog post)
State after state follow the same template. Identity considerations separate from economic group. Kerala for example carves the 25% into 15% identity 10% economic. Tamilnadu basically extends it to BC/MBC/ST/ST communities.
So here we are. The facts clearly establish even for a layman like me that the RTE is mostly just the quota system extended to the private sector education (majority institutes only). Sure it has a dash of helping the poor – but that is incidental. The rules simply do not bear out any structure driven by a desire to pluck the child from the garbage heap.
Whats the big deal ? Identity based deprivation exists
I expect this rebuttal. The idea is to alter the very definition of “poor” used by media or not to take the bollywoodized media too literally. But that is not the point of this post, the point is “Why did the media lie about the nature of the RTE ?” Why not just tell the truth and let the chips fall.
Readers of blog will know that I support identity (ie communal) benefits if and only if they are backed by data based scrutiny. Let me put that in lib speak, while I sit in the plush seats of my big bike at the traffic light – I want to know if the beggar child’s community is getting space on the platform. If I cant find that data – then I cant support that system. If there is data and scrutiny, the entire country must jump in and support quotas because we then can iterate it and measure his improvement. But that would destroy the adhocism of the system, which is the fuel for our political masters.
Could solitary blogger be right and the entire media establishment be lying ?
This bothered me a lot before writing this post. I may only have a 100 readers but I value them so much that the thought I could have missed something terrifies me. Was there an overarching income ceiling that covered all groups ? What if state notifications were income based and had no mention of caste and religion based criteria ? Conversely what if the central notification had income based criteria or cutoffs and it was the states who ignored them ? What if I raised a false alarm among my readers by only looking at a couple of state level aberrations while the majority was income based ?
Update: I didnt do a perfect job after all. See clarification in previous blog post.
This meant that I had to read about all states, specifically Delhi because the media originates there, the impugned central notification, all available commentary online. Had to check offline too with the limited contacts I have in this sector.
I did all of that which I have summarized in “Exhibit B – The facts” and they all checked out. But still what if there was something not in public domain that made RTE for the economically poor. While I was pondering over this – one thing clinched it for me.
It struck me that Kapil Sibal has never said that RTE is for the economically poor. He and most NGO activists are very careful to use the words disadvantaged and weaker.
What is next ?
We must protect free speech and drive for public access to data. Not the RTI variety, but put-it-online variety.
Folks must realize that this level of propaganda can be challenged only due to a miraculous window in Indian history:
- Free Speech – this post (at least as long as it is allowed to stay online)
- Access to Data – the various gazette notifications and state laws online.
Now think about it, if either of these were taken away – we have no tools at all. I would have to march to HRD Ministry in Delhi to request xerox copies of the act, then to each state to get their notifications. In that scenario, the easier option is just to let the media to interpret for us. Because we had all the same material the media had – we were able to defeat this propaganda. We could do this by completely sidestepping the media and looking at the facts on the table. This is what I say when we need data in public domain over 400 posts.
I am guess there will be online petitions to take action against this blog, even shut this down. Even if there is no derogatory or defamatory content of any kind in it, they will find some. They will call this casteist and elitist even though I actually fight for reservations only on falsifiable criteria so it benefits society. Even though I have never failed to point out the plight of the really backward. I dare them. The beauty is once the clamour for truth is out – it wont go back in the bottle. Even the might of the state and the wealth, cleverness, and influence of the media empires are helpless.
After all :
Truth can stand on its own legs, falsehood needs state support.
Satyameva Jayate & Thanks for Reading
UPDATE: Added links and a clarification
The Supreme Court in a 2-1 judgment today held that the Right to Education Act specifically the parts pertaining to govt mandated quotas in private unaided schools were valid. It also exempted minority institutions from this act citing Article 30(1). I will review the judgments in the next post as I think there are several flaws in it.
In a nutshell, the RTE consists of
- A long set of rules for schools to adhere to ; from land to building rules, to student records – all under inspector raj
- A 25% quota in private schools – the most contentious clause. This basically takes away 25% of school capacity and hands it over to the adhoc platforms of social justice. Read on.
- This 25% quota is only for class 1 intake. So if you see a poor kid who is older – RTE has nothing for him in private schools. This is another adhocism that can be easily extended to all classes. I noticed this was heavily argued by the govt in court as a ‘reasonable restriction’ under 19(6).
The focus of this post is to explain what the RTE is really about – the media isnt telling you the truth. Sample this ill informed FAQ from NDTV
What does this mean for schools across the country?
Right to Education Act, 2009, mandates 25 per cent free seats to the poor in government aided and private unaided schools uniformly across the country. However this will not be applicable to private minority institutions that get no aid from the government. Government schools will have no quota. These schools have to admit all.
Schools will have to implement the 25% reservation at the entry level of the school. States will have to bear the cost of this.
How will the poor students be selected?
Poor students from neighbourhood areas have to be admitted, based on a lottery system.
Source : NDTV
Before I break it down, I’d like to introduce two new terms.
Disadvantaged vs Weak
These are critical for you to understand how this system is going to work.
- Disadvantaged section and
- Weak section.
Cut to the RTE bill which specifically describes these terms (emp mine)
(d) “child belonging to disadvantaged group” means a child belonging tothe scheduled caste, the scheduled tribe, the socially and educationally backward class or such other group having disadvantage owing to social, cultural, economical, geographical, linguistic, gender or such other factor, as may be specified by the appropriate Government, by notification;
(e) “child belonging to weaker section” means a child belonging to such parent or guardian whose annual income is lower than the minimum limit specified by the appropriate Government, by notification;
So suddenly its not just about the poor. Its a bit more than that, isnt it?. At the very least, the image painted by the media isnt the full picture. They are just showing you one section the ‘weaker’ and trying to sell the entire bill as a Right to Education for Poor. Sample these headlines :
SC upholds seats for poor under Right to Education – Yahoo! News …
Give disabled children a choice, amend RTE: NAC
SC upholds seats for poor under Right to Education Daily Pioneer
Poor school students’ quota: Supreme Court to deliver verdict on … Times of India
Schools taught to leave no poor child behind
Even on TV shows such as Times Now and NDTV, the anchors took care to present the package as a case of allowing a poor kid to enter the bastion of the rich. If you protest you are instantly slapped with an elitist tag in the spirit of reasoned debate. Reading the bill carefully we find that the disadvantaged category is nothing but the omnipresent standard caste based grouping.
You havent seen anything yet – see what
the next clause one of the states Karnataka says in its draft rules (page 10).
(6) While causing admission under the 25% quota, preference shall be given to children from disadvantaged groups.
Thats right ! Not only is this bill not about the “economic” poor as the media portrays it to be but it
actually states that can mean that preference can be given during implementation to the caste based grouping over the poverty stricken grouping.
Reason for strikethrough: Thanks to Easwar (see comments) from pointing out that the RTE Act as notified does not contain this clause. I had mentioned on Twitter to some folks that it did. The original blog post did not have any links and implied that the notified bill itself had that clause. The overall point is there exist two distinct categories and it isnt just about the poor. But that is no excuse for sloppiness.
I actually went and read the rules formulated by various states – here is what Kerala is planning to do. 15% caste based 10% economic based.
(4) For the purpose of filling up the requisite 25% of seats in Class I, provided in clause (c) of sub section (1) of section 12, 15% of seats shall be reserved for children from disadvantaged groups and 10 % for children from weaker sections from the neighbourhood. For the selection of such students, the school shall publish the list of applicants and selection shall be by drawing of lots for each category. The list of selected students shall be displayed
I also read Karnataka, Mah, TN – each state is planning to follow similar paths.
I have been writing about this for years now. The impugned RTE act is a grand example of the Supreme Court vacating its constitutional space and allowing adhocism to creep into lawmaking. Even when fundamental rights are threatened as in this case. Here are the main touchpoints of arbitrariness.
- The 25% limit – why not 35% ?
- Class 1 intake – why not class 1 to 5
- Boarding school exemption – why not ? Isnt it better if poor lived with the rich for a while ?
- What is criteria for weaker section ? Is a quota envisaged ? Why not ?
- Obviously economic status changes for families – anomalies abound.
- No provision in constitution allowing quota on economic status (case pending in SC)
- All arguments are equally valid for caste quotas in private higher education.
- Brushes aside real problems arising due to wildly disparate classroom as being elitist.
The economic criteria is even more bizarre as folks on the edge frequently drop in and out of poverty. It is a massive moral hazard that a kid who gets free education for life from class 1 is preferred over a kid whose family entered debt and poverty in class 2 thus condemning him. The court should have applied strict scrutiny to these clauses, but that is in the next post.
When you get adhoc and arbitrary rules – you put great power into the hands of District Education Officer and a dozen other petty and mid level bureaucrats. The Act also envisages creating a NAC (thats right) and SAC (S = State). The pressure of keeping each one of the authorities in good humour and constantly fending off NGO and activists will place a tremendous administrative burden on schools. This is not to mention the dual burden of fee caps + loss due to RTE reimbursements.
This is a whole another post. Exemptions specifically to Christian unaided institutions puts most of your big name schools out of the RTE ambit totally. This benefit includes the clauses related to recognition as well as the quota. Linguistic minority institutes are a grotesque byproduct of social overengineering and are a whole another story. Both these groups arent scrutinized enough to see if they fit the description of “preservation of distinct language, script, and culture”. As of now, it is only Hindu schools that are burdened with this wide ranging law. This is an unacceptable state of affairs in a secular country.