New Delhi - Starting with the 2012-2013 school year, all public and private schools in India must keep 25 per cent of seats for children from economically weaker groups of society. However, unaided minority schools are exempt.
India's Supreme Court's ruling clarifies one of the most controversial sections of the Right to Education Act, which imposes mandatory free schooling for all children from the ages of 6 to 14.
A three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice S H Kapadia found that a child who is denied right to access education is also deprived of his right to live with dignity, freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
Some religious institutes criticised the act, which came into force on 1 April 2010. For them, setting aside 25 per cent of seats for poor students was "unconstitutional".
Some Catholic schools also saw the rule as too expensive for their budgets, noting that they were already accepting students from poor families.
Under the new law, schools will get a subsidy from the government for offering free education (65 per cent from the Union government, 35 per cent from state governments); however, such financial support will not meet the full cost. In fact, subsidies will be based on the expenditure per student in government schools. The government already spends 3,000 rupees (US$ 60) per primary school pupil.
According to 2007-2008 data quoted by the Supreme Court, out of the 12,500,755 schools offering elementary education in India, 80.2 per cent were government-run, 5.8 per cent were private aided schools and 13.1 per cent private unaided. Of these, 87.2 per cent of the schools were located in rural areas.