The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009. A Roadmap to Ensure Right to Education in India


Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A(Socio, Phil) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph.D

Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India

It is generally acknowledged in contemporary discourse that access to good quality elementary education, at the minimum, must be treated as a fundamental right. The enactment of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (henceforth RTE) Act 2009 is a roadmap to ensure right to education

Historical Context

To quickly recap the recent steps in the journey of the RTE Act 2009: the 86th Amendment Act, 2002, made three specific provisions in the Constitution to facilitate the realisation of free and compulsory education to children between the age of six and 14 years as a fundamental right. These were

(i)                  Adding Article 21A in Part III (fundamental rights),

(ii)                 Modifying Article 45, and

(iii)               Adding a new clause (k) under Article 51A (fundamental duties), making the parent or guardian responsible for providing opportunities for education to their children between six and 14 years

Article 21A of the Constitution – Constitution (Eighty – Sixth Amendment) Act, 2002.

December 2002

86th Amendment Act (2002) via Article 21A (Part III) seeks to make free and compulsory education a Fundamental Right for all children in the age group 6-14 years.

October 2003

A first draft of the legislation envisaged in the above Article, viz., Free and Compulsory Education for Children Bill, 2003, was prepared and posted on this website in October, 2003, inviting comments and suggestions from the public at large.


Subsequently, taking into account the suggestions received on this draft, a revised draft of the Bill entitled Free and Compulsory Education Bill, 2004

June 2005

The CABE (Central Advisory Board of Education) committee drafted the ‘Right to Education’ Bill and submitted to the Ministry of HRD. MHRD sent it to NAC where Mrs. Sonia Gandhi is the Chairperson. NAC sent the Bill to PM for his observation.

14th July 2006

The finance committee and planning commission rejected the Bill citing the lack of funds and a Model bill was sent to states for making the necessary arrangements. (Post-86th amendment, States had already cited lack of funds at State level)


Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, 2008, passed in both Houses of Parliament in 2009. The law received President’s assent in August 2009. . After much dithering for almost seven years subsequent to the 86th Amendment to the Constitution, the RTE Act 2009 received presidential assent on 26 August 2009, taking forward the agenda of free and universal elementary education, although the central government is yet to notify it.

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act or Right to Education Act (RTE), is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted on 4 August 2009, which describes the modalities of the

The Ministry of HRD set up a high-level, 14-member National Advisory Council (NAC) for implementation of the Act. The members included Kiran Karnik, former president of NASSCOM; Krishna Kumar, former director of the NCERT; Mrinal Miri, former vice-chancellor of North-East Hill University; Yogendra Yadav – social scientist. India

Sajit Krishnan Kutty, Secretary of The Educators Assisting Children’s Hopes (TEACH) India; Annie Namala, an activist and head of Centre for Social Equity and Inclusion; and Aboobacker Ahmad, vice-president of Muslim Education Society, Kerala.

1 April 2010

Article 21-A and the RTE Act come into effect.

The roadmap to implement the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act was discussed at a meeting of state Education Secretaries recently.

According to the minutes of the meeting:

  1. Nearly 7.8 lakh additional classrooms and seven lakh girls’ toilets will have to be created to implement the new law which has come into force from April 1. The government will spend Rs 1.71 lakh crore in the next five years for implementing the Act.
  2. Each child will be provided uniforms at Rs 400 per annum. Many states are already providing uniforms from their own budget. “But the uniforms will have to be provided by the state governments. They need to agree to this provision and incorporate it in their rules,” a HRD Ministry official said.
  3. Every child will be provided free textbooks while a child with the special need will get Rs 3,000 per annum for inclusive education. Similarly, Rs 10,000 will be given for home-based education for severely disabled children.
  4. There will be a requirement of additional 5.1 lakh teachers to meet the pupils-teacher ration of 30 for one as per the RTE Act. In UP, there is a requirement for 1.5 lakh teachers, followed by Bihar and Gujarat (0.5 to one lakh each), according to the minutes of the meeting.
  5. The Rs 1.71 lakh crore will be spent on the provision of access, infrastructure, training of untrained teachers and for intervention for out-of school children. The teachers’ salary and civil work will have maximum financial requirements of 28 per cent and 24 per cent respectively.
  6. Nearly 17 percent of the total estimate will be spent on child entitlement, while nine percent will go to special training for out-of-school children. School facilities will require eight percent of this money and inclusive education will need six per cent.
  7. The 7.6 lakh untrained teachers will be provided training in next five years. Maximum number of untrained teachers are in Bihar, Jharkhand and the northeastern states.
  8. The RTE stipulates barrier-free education for children with special needs and one classroom per teacher. About 7.8 lakh additional classrooms will be required. Majority of these classrooms will be Uttar Pradesh and Bihar (2.5 lakh each) followed by West Bengal (1.3 lakh) and Assam (30,000).
  9. There are nearly 27,000 ‘kuchcha’ school buildings which will have to be upgraded. Nearly seven lakh toilets for girls will be required, including 90,000 in Bihar, 63,000 in Madhya Pradesh and 54,000 in Orissa. About 3.4 lakh schools will require drinking water facility.

The RTE Act provides for the:

  • Clarifies that ‘compulsory education’ means an obligation of the appropriate government to provide free elementary education and ensure compulsory admission, attendance and completion of elementary education to every child in the six to fourteen age group. ‘Free’ means that no child shall be liable to pay any kind of fee or charges or expenses which may prevent him or her from pursuing and completing elementary education.
  • Lays down the norms and standards relating inter alia to Pupil Teacher Ratios (PTRs), buildings and infrastructure, school-working days, teacher-working hours.
  • Makes provisions for a non-admitted child to be admitted to an age appropriate class.
  • Prohibits (a) physical punishment and mental harassment; (b) screening procedures for admission of children; (c) capitation fee; (d) private tuition by teachers and (e) running of schools without recognition,
  • Provides for the appointment of appropriately trained teachers, i.e. teachers with the requisite entry and academic qualifications.
  • Provides for development of curriculum in consonance with the values enshrined in the Constitution, and which would ensure the all-round development of the child, building on the child’s knowledge, potentiality and talent and making the child free of fear, trauma and anxiety through a system of child-friendly and child centred learning
  • Provides for rational deployment of teachers by ensuring that the specified pupil teacher ratio is maintained for each school, rather than just as an average for the State or District or Block, thus ensuring that there is no urban-rural imbalance in teacher postings. It also provides for prohibition of deployment of teachers for non-educational work, other than decennial census, elections to local authority, state legislatures and parliament, and disaster relief.
  • Right of children to free and compulsory education till completion of elementary education in a neighborhood school.
  • Specifies the duties and responsibilities of appropriate Governments, local authority and parents in providing free and compulsory education, and sharing of financial and other responsibilities between the Central and State Governments.

Main Features of Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009

  • A child who completes elementary education shall be awarded a certificate.
  • Call needs to be taken for a fixed student-teacher ratio.
  • The financial burden will be shared between the state and the central government. FAQ
  • Free and compulsory education to all children of India in the 6 to 14 age group.
  • If a child above 6 years of age has not been admitted in any school or could not complete his or her elementary education, then he or she shall be admitted in a class appropriate to his or her age. However, if a case may be where a child is directly admitted in the class appropriate to his or her age, then, in order to be at par with others, he or she shall have a right to receive special training within such time limits as may be prescribed. Provided further that a child so admitted to elementary education shall be entitled to free education till the completion of elementary education even after 14 years.
  • Improvement in the quality of education is important.
  • No child shall be held back, expelled or required to pass a board examination until the completion of elementary education.
  • Proof of age for admission: For the purpose of admission to elementary education, the age of a child shall be determined on the basis of the birth certificate issued in accordance with the Provisions of Birth. Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1856, or on the basis of such other document as may be prescribed.No child shall be denied admission in a school for lack of age proof
  • School infrastructure (where there is a problem) need to be improved in every 3 years, else recognition will be canceled.
  • School teachers will need adequate professional degree within five years or else will lose job.
  • Twenty-five percent reservation for economically disadvantaged communities in admission to Class I in all private schools is to be done.

Provision of ‘Free and Compulsory Elementary Education

All children between the ages of 6 and 14 shall have the right to free and compulsory elementary education at a neighborhood school.

There is no direct (school fees) or indirect cost (uniforms, textbooks, mid-day meals, transportation) to be borne by the child or the parents to obtain the elementary education. The government will provide schooling free-of-cost until a child’s elementary education is completed.

The role of community and parents to ensure RTE

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act 2009 insists upon schools to constitute School Management Committees (SMCs) comprising local authority officials, parents, guardians and teachers. The SMCs shall form School Development Plans and monitor the utilization of government grants and the whole school environment.

RTE also mandates the inclusion of 50 percent women and parents of children from disadvantaged groups in SMCs. Such community participation will be crucial to ensuring a child-friendly “whole school” environment through separate toilet facilities for girls and boys and adequate attention to health, water, sanitation and hygiene issues.

Promote Child-Friendly Schools

All schools must comply with infrastructure and teacher norms for an effective learning environment. Two trained teachers will be provided for every sixty students at the primary level.

Teachers are required to attend school regularly and punctually, complete curriculum instruction, assess learning abilities and hold regular parent-teacher meetings. The number of teachers shall be based on the number of students rather than by grade.

The state shall ensure adequate support to teachers leading to improved learning outcomes of children. The community and civil society will have an important role to play in collaboration with the SMCs to ensure school quality with equity. The state will provide the policy framework and create an enabling environment to ensure RTE becomes a reality for every child.

The key issues for achieving RTE

RTE provides a ripe platform to reach the unreached, with specific provisions for disadvantaged groups, such as child laborers, migrant children, children with special needs, or those who have a “disadvantage owing to social, cultural economic, geographical, linguistic, gender or such other factor.” RTE focuses on the quality of teaching and learning, which requires accelerated efforts and substantial reforms:

  • Bringing eight million out-of-school children into classes at the age appropriate level with the support to stay in school and succeed poses a major challenge necessitating flexible, innovative approaches.
  • Creative and sustained initiatives are crucial to train more than one million new and untrained teachers within the next five years and to reinforce the skills of in-service teachers to ensure child-friendly education.
  • Disparities must be eliminated to assure quality with equity. Investing in preschool is a key strategy in meeting goals.
  • Families and communities also have a large role to play to ensure child-friendly education for each and every one of the estimated 190 million girls and boys in India who should be in elementary school today.

The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights shall review the safeguards for rights provided under this Act, investigate complaints and have the powers of a civil court in trying cases.

States should constitute a State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) or the Right to Education Protection Authority (REPA) within six months of 1 April 2010. Any person wishing to file a grievance must submit a written complaint to the local authority..

Appeals will be decided by the SCPCR/REPA. Prosecution of offenses requires the sanction of an officer authorized by the appropriate government.

25% quota for poor

The Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, on April 12, 2012 and directed every school, including privately-run ones, to give immediately free education to students from socially and economically backward classes from class-I till they reach the age of 14 years.

The court threw out the challenge by private unaided schools to Section 12(1)(c) of the Act that says every recognized school imparting elementary education, even if it is an unaided school not receiving any kind of aid or grant to meet its expenses, is obliged to admit disadvantaged boys and girls from their neighbourhood.

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has been designated as the agency to monitor provisions of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act.

Admissions provisions

A series of measures have been taken by the NCPCR to ensure that school admission procedures all over the country are in accordance with the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009. This was necessitated by the fact that schools in some states were carrying out a screening procedure for admission of children in the elementary stage of education prohibited by the Act.In April, the NCPCR wrote to the chief secretaries of all the states asking them to issue Government Orders to ensure that school admission procedures were in accordance with the RTE Act. This was prompted by the Directorate of Education, Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD), issuing a notice in March inviting applications for admission to Class VI in the Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalayas run by the Directorate.

The NCPCR’s intervention in April came in response to an admission notice that had been issued by the GNCTD’s Directorate of Education in all leading newspapers as well as in the Directorate’s website, inviting students to purchase application forms costing Rs 25 each and thereafter sit for an entrance exam. Since the RTE Act prohibits any kind of screening procedure and permits admissions into any school through random selection only, the notice was clearly in contravention of the Act.

As the nodal body monitoring the implementation of the RTE Act, the Commission wrote to the Principal Secretary, Education, GNCTD, asking the admission notice be withdrawn and a notice in Conformity with the provisions of the RTE be issued instead. It also requested that Government Orders (GO) be issued to all schools in the GNCTD within a week regarding the provisions of the Act so that the schools made the required changes in their procedures and modes of functioning.

As the Directorate did not comply with this request, it was summoned by the Commission in June and given time till July to re-conduct the admission in accordance with RTE procedures. To ensure that the RTE Act was not similarly contravened in other states, the NCPCR has in its letter to the chief secretaries said that the GO they issue to schools on the matter must specify that:

  1. Admission procedures be made in accordance with the RTE Act
  2. 25 per cent reservation is ensured for weaker sections in all ‘specified category’ schools and private unaided schools, and reservation norms for government-aided schools are to be followed

Further, private schools recognized by the government must also be mapped out and issued a notice regarding provisions in the Act as well as the procedures by which children in the neighborhood could claim admission to the schools. Also, the task of finalizing State Rules on the RTE Act must be completed at the earliest.

In response to queries regarding Navodaya Schools which have been designated as ‘specified category’ schools in the RTE Act, the NCPCR clarified that the provisions of Section 13 of RTE Act applied to all schools without exception.

The relevant provision of Section 13 of the Act is:

No school or person shall, while admitting a child, collect any capitation fee and subject the child or his or her parents or guardians to any screening procedure. Any school or person, if in contravention of the provisions of sub-section (1):

  1. Receives capitation fee, shall be punishable with fine which may extend to ten times the capitation fee charged
  2. Subjects a child to screening procedure shall be punishable with fine which may extend to Rs 25,000 for the first contravention and Rs 50,000 for each subsequent contravention.

No Screening for Admission to Navodaya Schools

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has written to the commissioner, Navodaya Schools, as well as the state education secretaries against any kind of screening for admission of children to elementary education (Classes 1 to eight). The NCPCR intervened to check violation of RTE provisions after it got reports of Navodaya schools screening students in Delhi and other states.

Quoting Section 13 of the RTE Act 2009, the NCPCR has pointed out that while admitting a child to school, the Act prohibits schools or persons from collecting capitation fees or subjecting the child or the parents and guardians to any screening procedure. Any school or person receiving capitation fees, it has pointed out, could be punished with a fine which could be ten times the capitation fee charged.

Subjecting a child to screening could lead to a fine of Rs 25,000 for the first contravention and Rs 50,000 for each subsequent contravention. Section 13 applies to all schools even the Navodaya schools which have been designated special category schools in the RTE Act. Screening procedures being conducted by Navodaya Schools are a violation of the RTE Act, it clarified. NCPCR has also requested state governments to issue orders to all schools regarding the provisions of the Act so that the required changes in their procedures and modes of functioning are made within a week.

Each child to get a free uniform, books

Each child from class I to class VIII in the country will be provided free textbooks and uniforms if a roadmap prepared by the Centre to implement the Right To Education Act (RTE) is accepted by the states.

Eligibility for Teachers

The following persons shall be eligible for appearing in the TET:

  • A person who has acquired the academic and professional qualifications specified in the NCTE Notification dated 23rd August 2010.
  • A person who is pursuing any of the teacher education courses (recognized by the NCTE or the RCI, as the case may be) specified in the NCTE Notification dated 23rd August 2010.
  • The eligibility condition for appearing in TET may be relaxed in respect of a State/UT which has been granted relaxation under sub-section (2) of section 23 of the RTE Act. The relaxation will be specified in the Notification issued by the Central Government under that sub-section.

Critical Evaluation of RTI

One Step Forward

In September 2004, the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) Committee was constituted as a first step to drafting the RTE Bill. The bill was submitted to the government in June 2005, although without any consultations being held with the public. It was found wanting on several fronts, beginning with its definition of a “child” (not less than six years and not more than 14 years), to not owning up to the economic responsibility of the union government while fleshing out the provisions. Further, not only did the bill have none of the tenets of the Common School System (CSS) that would have allowed for compulsory and uniform quality education to all, but it was also unable to suggest specific amendments necessary in the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986.

Two Steps Backward

The government, however, dithered on moving ahead with the recommendations made in the draft RTE Bill, 2005, citing lack of funds, and drafted a Model Right to Education Bill, 2006, and proposed providing incentives to states for adopting the Model Bill. The draft Model Bill’s implementation was linked to the center funding states’ Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) costs to the tune of 75%. The financial responsibility of providing free and compulsory education was primarily on the states and Union Territories (UTs), making elementary education the first charge on the revenue of the state/UT governments. This was, clearly, a move to weaken whatever had been attained through enacting the 86th Amendment in 2002.

Due to a combination of factors, including public pressure, a decision was finally taken to introduce a central legislation in the budget session of Parliament in 2008. The CABE draft of August 2005 was resurrected.

RTE Act 2009

Every child of the age of six to 14 years shall have a right to free and compulsory education in a neighborhood school till completion of elementary education.

One would have expected that after so many rounds of drafting and redrafting the enactment, the final outcome would be an effective instrument for any child in this country to demand her basic entitlement.

The act further fortifies the multitiered and unequal education structure as opposed to a CSS. Of the various categories of schools, a clear distinction is made in how much of the burden of providing free and compulsory education would fall on each kind. While the government-run schools would cover costs associated with all its wards, the government aided schools would be accountable to admitting students proportionate to 25% of their annual grants.

Although the act requires that special category schools (i e, Kendriya Vidyalayas, Navodaya Vidyalayas and Sainik Schools) and unaided schools admit 25% children from the weaker sections and disadvantaged groups of the population, it ensures reimbursement by the government to these unaided schools, based on per child expenditure incurred towards admitting these students. One can understand if the government was keen to get the act operational at the earliest and was temporarily subsidizing the costs of private schools for providing education. However, this is certainly not the case, as the government does not specify any time frame up to when it would continue to reimburse the costs of education for private schools. Though the act expresses interest in taking necessary steps in providing free pre-school education for children above three years of age, leaving out this critical segment of the child population from the definition is worrisome. Not only does the act fail to cover all children, it does not provide definite timelines for many provisions.

Flexible or Ambiguous?

As already noted, the five-month-old enactment continues to be in a state of suspended animation with the government yet to set a date for the act to come into force as a legally binding obligation. This is not the only worrisome aspect about timelines with regard to the act. Several provisions leave scope for the government to delay effective implementation.

This uncertainty is also evident in determining the eligibility of a teacher. As a critical component affecting outcomes, eligibility of teachers would be based on minimum qualifications as laid down by an academic authority. However, the Act also allows for unqualified teachers to continue for five years after the Act comes into effect, on grounds of lack of availability of trained teachers. It also provides for relaxation of rules and appointment of unqualified teachers for five years till the Act is notified. This only reflects the government’s non-serious approach to implementing the Act and its disregard of quality of outcomes.

Quality: Real or Rhetorical?

The Act lists key norms and standards that would need to be adhered to by all schools, failing which no school may be established. This provision is contradicted when the government gives three more years after the Act takes effect to schools that do not comply with the norms as specified in the schedule. To add to this, the central government may rule to change the schedule by adding or even omitting norms and standards. It is acceptable if items or qualifications are added to the existing parameters; it is another matter that even now the government is unable to set the basic minimum requirements for a school. Another aspect relating to quality is the nature of job conditions for teachers. With a plethora of evidence pointing to the fact that differential remuneration to teachers affects their motivation, the absence of any indicative benchmarks for teachers’ salary is a significant oversight in the Act. Further, while the Act suggests that no teacher should be engaged in any noneducational tasks, it excludes their engagement in the population census, duties pertaining to disaster relief and elections at various levels. The act turn a blind eye to the workload and the absence of motivation among teachers, it forbids them from taking private tuitions. With more than 26% of children in classes IV to VIII attending private tuitions classes, this may be a case of misplaced activism. Setting uniform salary norms for teachers and withdrawing them from all non-educational purposes might have served the cause more effectively.

The Accountability

Quality monitoring is attainable only in a culture of accountability. To ensure this, the Act requires that all schools, except those that are unaided, constitute school management committees. Apart from complex questions relating to fixing of accountability at different levels, which remain unaddressed. it is not clear why unaided schools are left out of the purview of accountability with regard to the provisions contained in Section 21.1, when they admit 25% of the underprivileged students.

Further, the government seems to be in no hurry to adhere to the spirit of the right to education, going by the number of disclaimers that are provided. These allow for the prosecution to be instituted only with the previous sanction of an authorized government personnel in the event of a school charging any kind of fees. These also relate to the decision to scrap the recognition of any school and prosecution for running a school without any recognition. An intelligent guess is sufficient to peg the occurrence of such prosecution as unlikely.

The Act also maintains that legal proceedings against such actions of the government cannot be initiated in the event that these have been undertaken in good faith and best interests of the children. Rather than pursuing an objective vision, the Act is ridden with loopholes. There are many other issues that need to be examined closely (such as harmonization of rules and provisions in place in different states with the RTE Act 2009, among others).

Financial Responsibility

Central and state governments shall share financial responsibility for RTE. The central government shall prepare estimates of expenditures. State governments will be provided a percentage of these costs.

There is no clarity on who will take the lead in financing the Act. Ideally, the central government ought to be shouldering this duty in the light of the poor fiscal situation in most states. Acknowledging this reality, the Act notes that the states may seek a predetermined percentage of expenditure as grants-in-aid from the central government, based on the recommendations of the finance committee on assessment of additional resource requirements for any state. Be that as it may, the Act reveals an obvious contradiction when, on the one hand, it suggests that both the union and state governments have concurrent responsibility to finance the Act,22 with the centre preparing estimates of capital and recurring expenditure under the Act, while on the other, it unequivocally holds the state governments responsible for providing the funds for implementation of the Act.23

The union government’s attempt to shy away from taking primary financial responsibility of implementing the act is in keeping with its reluctance to allocate adequately for the social sector.

The Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) Committee had estimated that in the six-year period from 2006-07 to 2011-12,24 additional outlays of Rs 4.36 lakh crore (with teachers’ salaries at Kendriya Vidyalaya norms) and Rs 3.93 lakh crore (with teachers’ salaries at the prevalent scales) would have to be allocated to universalise elementary education. Sticking to the lower level of CABE projections, the additional required outlays are Rs 3.93 lakh crore for a five-year period. Reports in the media that the required additional outlays amount to Rs 1.78 lakh crore, spread over a period of five years, as estimated by the MHRD, for implementing the RTE Act 2009 seem extremely disturbing, if not mysterious.

In principle, the RTE Act 2009, with appropriate modifications and financial provisioning, offers a great opportunity to correct the anomaly of poor education outcomes, and can deliver on the long-standing commitment of providing basic and quality education to the so called “demographic dividend” of the country. Unfortunately, short-term political gains and poor judgment on the part of politicians and policymakers may continue to be major roadblocks in accomplishing this critical goal.

In short this act is intended to makes education a fundamental right of every child between the ages of 6 and 14 and specifies minimum norms in elementary schools. It requires all private schools to reserve 25% of seats to children (to be reimbursed by the state as part of the public-private partnership plan). Kids are admitted in to private schools based on economic status or caste based reservations. It also prohibits all unrecognised schools from practice, and makes provisions for no donation or capitation fees and no interview of the child or parent for admission. The Act also provides that no child shall be held back, expelled, or required to pass a board examination until the completion of elementary education. There is also a provision for special training of school drop-outs to bring them up to par with students of the same age.

The passing of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act 2009 marks a historic moment for the children of India.

This Act serves as a building block to ensure that every child has his or her right (as an entitlement) to get a quality elementary education, and that the State, with the help of families and communities, fulfils this obligation.




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