For the people

Ambika Shaligram
Thursday, 25 January 2018

In conversation with city-based educationists and activists on RTI and RTE

In conversation with city-based educationists and activists on RTI and RTE

In recent times, two landmark acts that had the potential to bring about transformation in the country were passed. The Right to Education (RTE) act came into being in 2009, whereas the Right to Information (RTI) act was passed 12 years ago. Have these acts promised to live up to their potential? What were the challenges? Sakal Times finds out on the occasion of Republic Day.

A revolutionary step
Dr Suman Karandikar
Eminent educationist, former director of Indian Institute of Education, Pune

I think Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, which provides for free and compulsory education to children between the age of 6 and 14 years, was a revolutionary step; allowing each child access to education is a very big achievement. However, I have a few observations to make about its implementation.

First, why are we linking statistics with the success of the act? No doubt statistics is one big indicator, but, in our case, we should be more interested in a performance-based indicator. For instance, a child is enrolled in say Class IV at the beginning of June. At the end of the academic year, in March, he should be monitored for growth and development — not just on academic levels (if he is able to solve arithmetic or writing skills) but if there is a change in his personality, thinking and communication process. Who is going to monitor this?

We need to mobilise youth in village to support the teaching fraternity. The gram panchayat officials, taluka and district level officials have to monitor if the kids are going to school and if they are able to cope up with studies. When they set out to fulfill these tasks, is there a government mechanism to ensure that they are facing no hurdles? In case, there are any hurdles, has anybody found out what these are? These needs and inputs have to be taken care of. We are focusing on goal-oriented results. But do we have enough trained manpower to realise them?

One example is Hiwarebazaar village in Ahmednagar district. It has become a model village. The movement was successful because everyone in the village was involved. So our manpower should be our biggest strength. Change comes in slowly but it helps build a positive aura. Thus more and more people become change-makers. Looking at our population, we cannot expect a widespread change overnight. The research has to be ongoing — what has changed, why it has changed and how much has changed — all needs to be observed.

Getting children enrolled is one small step. To ensure that they do not drop out, comprehend what they are being taught, needs continuous monitoring. The act has made provisions that those kids who are not able to fulfill the tasks expected in that academic year, will attend remedial classes in vacations. Instead, the children are promoted till Class VIII. And, in Class IX, crisis strikes. So evaluation of their academics, their behavioural growth is necessary at all levels.

We could inch towards 100 per cent literacy (National Literacy Mission) because it is centered around voluntary organisation efforts and the Adult Education Officer only had to supervise these efforts. The literacy mission also had a functional approach. People who became literate could sense the difference. In case of kids studying under the RTE act, they have to realise the change in them — from non-literate to literate and progressing in schooling.

State vs Schools
Ramesh Iyer
City Congress spokesman and general secretary

The RTE admissions have been making headlines again. As per the RTE act, the State government has to reimburse funds to schools. As of now, only part payment has been released. The schools are not too happy with this scenario. In this tussle, children from underprivileged sections of society are going to suffer.

The purpose of this act has been defeated. The parents say, ‘We don’t get admission under RTE. To which the schools reply, ‘We are not being refunded so how can we give you free admission?’ Who is to be blamed?. The number of seats reserved for RTE admissions are going to be reduced because the schools are not going to keep them free for these students. Out of 6,000 seats, only 200 are filled up.

Another loophole in the act is that minority schools, aided and non-aided do not come under the act. The law should be equal for everybody. For example, some city schools don’t take a naya paisa from the Central or state government. But they come under the ambit of RTE whereas some schools built on Defence land or government land are exempt. The Supreme Court judgement in 2014 says, “Those getting aid from appropriate authority — should be exempt from the RTE.”

With due respect, who’s the ‘appropriate authority’ here? State or the local body?
Some city schools have taken long lease from the Central government and are paying Rs 1,300 as rent. This makes them an aided school, yet they do not admit underprivileged kids under the RTE act. I think we need to bring in an amendment to the act, and make Central government an ‘appropriate authority’ too. This is just a suggestion to ensure that the kids get a chance to study in these schools; we do not want to interfere with the school’s minority status or its functioning.

‘Challenges that existed when act came into being, still exist’
Right to Information
Vivek Velankar, RTI activist  

The Right to Information act came into existence 12 years and 12 weeks ago. But it has not reached or impacted the common man as much as it should have. The Section 26 (a) of the Right to Information Act, 2005, says, “The appropriate Government may, to the extent of availability of financial and other resources — develop and organise educational programmes to advance the understanding of the public, in particular of disadvantaged communities as to how to exercise the rights contemplated under this Act.” The government has not taken much efforts. There has been no budgetary allocation for this.

After 12 years, not even 12 per cent of the Indian population knows about this act.

The act sought to equip citizens and establish transparency and accountability amongst the administration, but it can’t be said to have been successful. The monitoring agency for the implementation of this act is Information Commissioner. But adequate appointments for this post have not been made in the last 12 years. In every state and at Central Government level, 10 Information Officers and one Information Commissioner have to be appointed. Maharashtra government has been an exception to this rule. The Central government too has only recently made all the appointments.

All this has resulted in pendancy of second appeals and complaints before the Information Commissioner. In Pune, the pendancy is of two years. More or less, the same situation exists in all other states.

There is no transparency in the appointment of Information Commissioners either. It has been looked upon as a safe bet for retired bureaucrats because the retirement age for Information Commissioners is 65.

The duties of the Information Officers entail that they share correct, authentic and complete information requested by the applicants. In case they share incorrect information, or do not share any information, they will be penalised. But the penalty rate is about two or three per cent. This has resulted in complacency among the staffers.

Section 4 of the act says that there should be ‘proactive disclosure to be done by every public authority’. In all these years, no government or semi-government has made proactive disclosure the way it was expected to be done. So people have no choice but to request for that particular information through RTI. This results in additional pressure on the government machinery. Also no disciplinary action is taken if this proactive disclosure is not done. This has also hampered the RTI movement.

There is no protection for people seeking information under this act, especially at the gram panchayat or zilla parishad level, where the applicants are threatened. The challenges that existed when the act came into being, still exist.

Having said that, there is a certain pressure and accountability in the administration because of the act. There is a discernible improvement in the transparency. Honest and upright officers have benefited the most with this act. They have told me in our training sessions that they can now stand up to undue demands of their bosses.

The biggest change due to RTI can be seen in 2014 elections. The UPA government had to go because of the scams. The RTI was instrumental in exposing the scams.

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