NEW DELHI: The changes proposed in Delhi School Education (Amendment) Bill, 2015 are proving to be a mixed bag not least because they are being interpreted very differently by the government and others.

The bill to amend the 42 year-old Delhi School Education Act, 1973, has already been passed by the cabinet and is likely to be tabled in the assembly this session. Section 10 (1) that required private school teachers to be paid on the same scale as government ones has been replaced with “The salary and allowances payable to, and the terms and conditions of service of employees of recognized private schools shall be such as may be prescribed.” Lawyer-activist Ashok Agarwal believes this will “reduce private school teachers to bonded labour.” “The pay parity clause had come after great agitation,” he says.

The replacement provision leaves scope for the government to “prescribe” and the chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has said the government is like to specify a certain percentage of the school’s revenue to be allocated toward staff salaries. However, these details will come through rules and notifications.

Agarwal, however, “welcomes” the changes proposed for nursery admissions likely because in his interpretation – significantly different from the government’s own – they effectively abolish management quota and the points system. The bill re-defines entry-level class as “pre-primary or pre-school class for admission of a child below six years of age” and brings in provisions from the Right to Education Act to define “screening” thus: “”Screening procedure” means the method of selection of admission of a child, in preference over another other than a random method.” “Management quota is out; criteria such as alumni, sibling and others are also out; as per this even distance is out,” is how Agarwal sees this. Kejriwal’s reading, however, is very different. He’s earlier said this provision is meant to prevent interviews – addressed by another clause in the bill – and the government will decide criteria later. Atishi Marlena, advisor to Deputy CM Manish Sisodia on education, has said that the amendment will bring more power to the state to decide on admissions. Perhaps she was referring to the proposal to drop the phrase “with the previous approval of the Central Government, and” from Section 28 (1) of the 1973 Act which is, “The Administrator may, with the previous approval of the Central Government, and subject to the condition of previous publication, by notification, make rules to carry out the provisions of this Act.” One of the areas the government is given the power to formulate rules on is admission.

So far, following an older High Court decision, nursery admissions were being conducted on a “points system.” A school was free to select a number of criteria – distance from school, children of alumni, siblings of enrolled kids being the most common – and assigned points out of 100 to each of the parameters. The total points a candidate had – based on how many of the criteria he or she met – determined their chances. Those with maximum points found seats automatically, if there were more candidates than seats, schools would draw lots. The High Court had ruled that the RTE was not applicable to general category admissions (75% seats with the remaining 25% going to EWS-DG candidates) but this amendment, believes Agarwal, will bring the process for general category admissions closer to that of EWS ones. Agarwal has long maintained the points system is itself “screening.

Agarwal is critical of the penalty too. “We had wanted punishment. The government has kept provision only for a fine, that too compoundable. It’ll be passed on to the parents ultimately.” Where the bill does get it right, though, is in section on offences and penalties. It inserts a “27A” after Section 27 and this says, “Save as provided under this Act, whoever contravenes the provisions of this Act except section 16A* shall, on conviction, be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to a period of three years or fine which shall not be less than one lakh rupees but which may extend [to] five lakhs rupees or both.” The DSEAR 1973 originally permitted imprisonment to a maximum period of three months. The amendment allows a variety of punishments that will hurt — “stoppage of aid”; “imposition of fine”; “in case of embezzlement or school fund or concealment of income generated from the fee, order for recovery of said amount”; “suspension of admission at any class for a particular year or with cumulative effect”; “taking over the management”; and “withdrawal of recognition.”

It also adds that “The offences under this Act shall be non-cognizable and bailable and no court shall take cognizance of any offence under this Act except on the complaint of an officer not below the rank of such officer as the government may authorize in this behalf.”

*On capitation fee and screening for which the penalties are already specified.

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