On the EWS category in the Right To Education act
“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.
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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.