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Supreme Court Judgement on Mohini Jain Case: Right to Education as a Fundamental Right

by Saurav Shome

Introduction

In 1989, the Government of Karnataka, issued a notification that permitted the private medical colleges in the State of Karnataka to charge exorbitant tuition fees from the students admitted other than the ‘Government seat quota’. Miss Mohini Jain, a medical aspirant student filed a petition in Supreme Court challenging this notification. The apex Court raised an important question that ‘whether right to education is guaranteed to the Indian citizen under the Constitution of India?’

The Supreme Court of India observed that mention of ‘life and personal liberty’ in Article 21 of the Constitution automatically implies some other rights, those are necessary for the full development of the personality, though they are not enumerated in Part III of the Constitution. Education is one such factor responsible for overall development of an individual and therefore, right to education is integrated in Article 21 of the Constitution.

A brief on the Case

Miss Mohini Jain, a resident of Meerut (in the State of UP), applied for admission to the MBBS course in the session commencing February/March, 1991, to a private medical college located in the State of Karnataka. The college management asked her to deposit a sum of Rs. 60,000/- as the tuition fee for the first year and also to show a bank guarantee of the amount equal to the fee for the remaining years. When Miss Jain’s father intimated the management that the asked amount was beyond his reach, the management denied Miss Jain’s admission to the medical college. Miss Jain informed the court that the management demanded an additional amount of Rs. four and a half lakhs, however, the management denied the allegation (?).1

As per the notification, the denial of admission of Miss Jain due to her failure to submit the yearly tuition fee of Rs. 60,000/- was a valid step taken by the college management. In this situation, Miss Jain filed a petition (Writ petition (Civil) No. 456 of 1991) under Article 32 (1) of the constitution of India challenging the notification issued by the Government of Karnataka.1

A two member bench consisting Justice Kuldip Singh and Justice R. M. Sahai gave the judgement of the case on 30 July, 1992 (Citation: 1992 AIR 1858). For the first time in the post independent India, right to education of the Indian citizens and the State obligation to secure the right came under scrutiny at the premises of the apex Court. It is important to note that this was the time when neo-liberal economic policy were knocking at the door of India.1

The notification

It is relevant to know in this context that what was the notification issued by the Government of Karnataka. The Government of Karnataka issued a notification dated 5 June, 1989 under section 5(1) of the Karnataka Educational Institutions (Prohibition of capitation fee) Act, 1984, which fixed the tuition and other fees to be charged from the students by the private medical colleges in the State. As per the notification, the tuition fee for the candidates admitted against:1
1. “Government seat” was Rs. 2,000 per year,
2. For the students from Karnataka but not falling under “Government seat” was not to be exceeding Rs. 25,000/- per year, and
3. For the Indian students not residing in Karnataka was not to be exceeding Rs. 60,000/- per year.

Responses from the respondents

First respondent was the State of Karnataka. The second (the intervener) and the third respondent were the Karnataka Private Medical Colleges Association and the private medical college respectively.1

According to the third respondent, the private medical college, those students who where admitted under “Government seat quota” were meritorious and those who were admitted under the “Management quota” (other than “Government seat”) were not meritorious; the classification was valid and hence, in such situation, the college-management had the right to charge more fee from non-meritorious students to meet the expenses in order to provide medical education to the students.1

According to the intervener, Karnataka Private Medical Colleges Association, the private medical colleges in the state of Karnataka received no financial aid either from the State or Central Government. The expenditure per student for 5 year MBBS course in private medical colleges was about 5 lakhs and forty percent of the seats were filled by the “Government Quota” under which students paid only Rs. 2,000/- per year, therefore, students admitted under “Management quota” had to share the burden. Hence, the tuition fee was not excessive and there was no question of profit making by the private medical colleges in the State of Karnataka.1

Moreover, both the intervener and the third respondent mentioned that there were no provisions either in the Constitution of India or under any other law which prevented the charging of capitation fee.1

Issues before the Court

In the lieu of above situation several crucial questions appeared before the Court. Now, the Court had to answer the following major questions:
a) Was there a ‘right to education’ guaranteed to the people of India under the Constitution?
b) If the right is guaranteed to the people then, does applying capitation fee violate the guaranteed right to education?
c) Whether charging capitation fee in educational institutions is arbitrary, unjust, unfair and violated Article 14 (“The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India” ) of the constitution?1

Responses from the Court

The Court said that the dignity of human can not be violated under any situation and it is the responsibility of the State to respect and protect the dignity of her citizens. An individual cannot be assured human dignity unless his/her personality is developed and the only way to do that is to educate the individual. When the Constitution was framed (the Constitution was adopted in 1950), 70 percent of the citizens of the country were illiterate. The framers of the Constitution hoped to achieve 100 percent literacy within a time period of 10 years. Guided by this hope, Article 418 (“The State shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want”) and Article 458 (“The State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years”) were included in the Chapter IV of the Constitution.1

The Court referred to the various provisions in the Constitution of India and reminded that the ‘Preamble’ has promised to secure to all citizens of India “Justice, social, economic and political”, “Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship”. It further provided “Equality of status and of opportunity” and assured dignity of the individual. The objectives flowing from the ‘Preamble’ cannot be achieved and shall remain on paper unless the people of the country were educated.1

The Court said that although ‘right to education’ had not been guaranteed as a fundamental right under Part III of the constitution, the Articles 218 (in Part III of the Constitution of India), Article 38, 39(a), (f),8 (see Appendix), 41 and 458 (in Part IV of the Constitution of India) together makes it clear that the framers of the constitution made it obligatory for the State to provide education for its citizens. Article 218 says “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”. The right to life under Article 218 and the dignity of an individual cannot be assured unless it is accompanied by right to education. Therefore, every citizen had a ‘right to education’ under the constitution and thus, the state had an obligation to provide educational institutions at all levels for the benefit of all the citizens. All educational institutions whether it was state owned or state recognized were obliged to secure the ‘right to education’.1

In Part IV, the directive principles of the state policy, the Constitution asks the State to secure social order and minimize inequalities for the promotion of welfare of citizens (Article 38). Article 39 of Part IV talks about directing the state policies to secure adequate means of livelihood of citizen and offer opportunities to children to facilitate their healthy al-round development. Reality of the fundamental rights under chapter III will not be realized by illiterate citizens unless “right to education” under Article 41 was ensured to the individual citizen. Therefore, “right to education” was concomitant to the fundamental rights provided under Part III of the constitution.1

The fundamental rights guaranteed under Part III of the constitution of India including the right to freedom of speech and expression and other rights under Article 19 (see Appendix) cannot be appreciated and fully enjoyed unless a citizen is educated and is conscious of his individual dignity. Education is instrumental to reduce the inequality, and ensuring adequate livelihood. Illiterate people is vulnerable to exploitation. Without education the vision expressed in the said articles of the Constitution can not be realized. The Court said that the ‘Directive Principles’, which were fundamental in the governance of the country, cannot be isolated from the fundamental rights guaranteed under Part III. They were supplementary to each other and have to be read into the fundamental rights.1

Court’s responses on charging capitation fee

Charging capitation fee limits the access to the education only to the richer section of the people. Poorer person with better merit can not get admission due to inability to pay money and as a consequence in educational institution a citizen’s ‘right to education’ gets denied. Further, allowing charging capitation fee violates Article 14 of the constitution of India8. The only method of admission to the medical colleges should be by merit and merit alone. The Court further stated that the capitation fee was simply a price for selling education. The concept of “teaching shops” was not at par with the constitutional scheme and was entirely opposing character to the Indian culture and heritage.1

Court made one significant remark in stating that if government recognises or approve a professional institution to run a professional course, it is State responsibility to ensure that the Institute should charge the government rates only and right to education is preserved.1

Significance of the Case

The judgement is historic in its own accord. The judgement of the Supreme Court has huge significance in a context of state’s failure to maintain the endeavor set by article 45 of the Constitution even after 40 years of independence.2 However, the judgment of the court resulted mixed reaction. While, some critic the court’s judgment as impractical and court’s role as unnecessarily proactive,3 others welcomed the court’s decision as logical4 and response to the call of hour 5. Others noted the judgment as the expression of judicial activism due to the fact that only a two judges bench made a substantial change in constitution 6.

Mohini Jain judgment of the Supreme Court was appeared at a time when liberalisation as a government policy was searching Indian soil to sprout. Commercialisation of education was not as rampant as it is now .7 In the recent trend of liberalization and privatization it is a challenge to keep the conformity with the socialist structure of Constitution and the judgment is in the line of retaining the conformity.4

The most notable part of the judgment was its insistence that the right to education be read as an integral part of the right to life guaranteed under Article 21, in Part III. The decision of the Court that the fulfillment of the right to life requires a life of dignity and therefore, must be interpreted to include both the economic and social rights. Education is as basic as to ensure rights to food, water, and health. But, question arise whether right to education at all level is essential for citizens for living a descent life? Whether right to education should be limited to only right to primary and basic education? Whether, declaring right to education at higher education level actually increase status quo and unequal distribution of resources results in collapsing the entire education system in India?3 According to some critic, the private educational institutions do not get any government grants and therefore should not be interpreted under the purview of article 12 of the Constitution of India 3. Later Supreme court had to modify its judgment and limits the right to free and compulsory education upto 14 years of age.2

Conclusion

The most important thing is, there was a traditional look towards Directive Principle as idealistic preaching of the constitution.7 This case, revisited the traditional ritualistic approach towards Directive Principles and provides a solid base of pragmatism.

Mohini Jain case declared the right to education as fundamental right in 1992. However, the right is still not realised by all Indian citizens. “Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act – 2009”9 is an attempt to move forward in this line. But, as it seems, there is enough scope to reflect on our action. Action with good intention will not always lead to good result. What is urgent at present is revisiting our past action and formulate a road map and keep reflecting on the same.

Appendix

Article 32. (1): The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part (Part III: Fundamental Rights) is guaranteed.

Article 38: (1) “The State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life”. (2) The State shall, in particular, strive to minimise the inequalities in income, and endeavour to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities, not only amongst individuals but also amongst groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations”.

Article 39(a): “The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing – that the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood”.

Article 39(f): “The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing – that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment”.

References

1. Official Website of Supreme Court of India. Available online athttp://www.supremecourtofindia.nic.in

2. Tilak, J. B. (1998). Available online athttp://www.doccentre.org/docsweb/Education/Scanned_material/New-Folder/fre2.seminar98.646.pdf accessed on 11/09/2011.

3. Sathe, S. P. (1992). Supreme Court on Right to Education . Economic and Political Weekly; 27 (35); 1847 – 1848.

4. Nagasaila, D and Suresh, V (1992). Can Right to Education be a Fundamental Right? Economic and Political Weekly; 27 (45); 2442 – 2443.

5. Anand, A. S. (1997). Justice N.D. Krishna Rao Memorial Lecture Protection of Human Rights — Judicial Obligation or Judicial Activism. Online available athttp://www.ebc-india.com/lawyer/articles/97v7a2.htm accesses on 10/09/2011.

6. Suchindran, B. N. (2011). An injudicious fraud. Blog post available athttp://lawandotherthings.blogspot.com/2011/02/injudicious-fraud.html accessed on 11/09/2011.

7. Times on India. available onlinehttp://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Schools-cant-be-allowed-to-fix-exorbitant-fees/articleshow/5600370.cms accessed on 10/03/2010.

8. Constitution Of India. Available on Official Website of Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India.http://lawmin.nic.in/coi/coiason29july08.pdf.

9. Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act – 2009. Available in the official website of Department of School Education and Literacy athttp://education.nic.in/Elementary/free%20and%20compulsory.pdf.

Cite this article as: Shome, S. (2011). Supreme Court Judgement on Mohini Jain Case: Right to Education as a Fundamental Right. Published online ahttp://metastudio.org.

Created on 03 Nov 2011, Last modified on 05 Apr 2012