Last week, when the Rajya Sabha applied its mind to the so-called right to education bill, 2008, only 54 members out of about 250 members were present. What is, however, more worrying is the ease with which the human resource development minister, Kapil Sibal, managed to convince the members to pass the bill that enigmatically denies the right to education. Several members expressed concern about the exclusion of more than 17 crore children below six years of age from the fundamental right existing in the Constitution for balanced nutrition, health and pre-primary education. Sibal offered the facile argument that the bill is under Article 21A, introduced in Part III through the 86th Constitutional Amendment (2002), limiting the government’s obligation to 6-14 age group. This overlooks the fact that Article 21A is itself a much criticized dilution of the original Article 45, which included children below six years of age. This position, confirmed in Supreme Court’s Unnikrishnan judgment (1993), still prevails since Article 21A had not been yet notified and will also continue to be valid even after the notification.
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