A single-Judge Bench of the Rajasthan High Court comprising of Justice Dinesh Mehta has held, while allowing a writ petition filed challenging the decision of the State government to convert Petitioners' Hindi Medium school into an English medium school, that Article 19(1)(a) has a wide ambit and it includes within its fold, right to have education in a particular medium.
Additional Advocate General Mr. Pankaj Sharma appeared for the Respondents, while Counsel Mr. Moti Singh appeared for the Petitioners before the High Court.
It was argued by the Petitioners that if more schools were to be opened, then the State was required to allocate funds and create new infrastructure including new buildings and classrooms before opening the schools, but in any case, the conversion of the existing Hindi medium schools into English medium schools was an arbitrary exercise of the purported powers of the State Government.
Further, the Petitioners contended that the right of education up to elementary level is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution under Article 21A of the Constitution of India and therefore, the State's action of converting the school in question to Hindi medium school is violative of fundamental rights of the children of the school.
Additionally, Mr. Singh argued that as per Section 29(2)(f) of the Right to Education Act, 2009 the medium of instruction is required to be in the child's mother tongue, which in this case was Hindi.
Also, the Petitioners argued that the State could not promote English (as a language or medium of instruction) because English is not a part of any recognized language enlisted in Schedule VIII of the Constitution of India.
The Court dealt with five pertinent issues -
1. Whether Article 21A of the Constitution of India which guarantees a Right to Education, also guarantees the right to receive education in mother tongue or home language?
In this context, the Court observed that no parent or child could claim the Right to receive education in mother tongue or home language as a matter of right, that he/his ward should be instructed in a particular language or the mother tongue only, on the basis of what has been guaranteed under Article 21A of the Constitution, since Article 21A of the Constitution is tethered with the words "in such manner, as the State, may, by law determine".
2. Whether the right to education in mother tongue or Hindi is a fundamental right?
The Court in this context noted that the right to have education in mother tongue or in a particular medium is guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, as has been held by the SC in the case of State of Karnataka & Anr. Vs. Associated Management of English Medium Primary and Secondary Schools & Ors. Further, the Court observed -
"Since, fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) is only subject to reasonable restriction by law to be enacted, by the State, in the opinion of this Court, the instant decision taken or the State's policy decision, cannot whittle down the fundamental right of a child to be taught in a particular medium, which is assured rather protected by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India."
3. Whether the policy decision of the State converting the school in question to Mahatma Gandhi English Medium School is in conflict with the provisions of Sections 20, 21, 22, and 29(2)(f) of the Act of 2009?
The Court placed reliance on the provisions of the 2009 Act and Rajasthan Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules, 2011 and observed -
"This Court is unable to conclude that prescription of medium of instruction is a decision to be taken by the School Management Committee, as a part of school development plan. Preparing a school development plan cannot be misconstrued to mean the prescription of syllabus and medium of instructions. It has to be done by the experts in the field of education/child education."
4. Whether the consent of the School Development Management Committee (SDMC) is necessary before converting a Hindi medium school to an English medium school?
The Court noted that the functions of SDMC under Section 21(2) (a) and (b) of the 2009 Act do not include the decision to be taken with respect to language or medium in which the students of the school shall be taught. The medium of instruction is to be determined by the Appropriate Authority or Rajasthan School Education Council.
Further, the Bench opined that it is not within the domain of the SDMC to decide as to what language pupil of the school will be instructed in.
The Court additionally held, "In the case impugned administrative decision of the State is upheld, without the wishes and consent of the SDMC, the school cannot be abruptly converted to an English medium school. Changing the medium of instruction of the school in any case, cannot be done in the manner that has been done by the State in the present case."
The Court also held that scooping out 601 students with one stroke of a pen in a bargain of an assurance of being accommodated in nearby schools is violative of their Constitutional rights.
"This Court, therefore, is of the opinion that the decision of the State Government of converting present school out of 344 schools to English medium schools by a single stroke of pen, is arbitrary and contrary to the provisions of the Act of 2009 and the Rules of 2011," the Court held.
5. Who is competent to change the medium of instruction of a school?
The Court in this context noted that since the medium of instruction is to be determined by the Academic Authority, which in the State of Rajasthan is the Rajasthan School Education Council, the School Management Committee cannot decide the medium of instruction may it be Hindi or English.
Deciding upon the medium of instruction should be, the Court noted that Section 29(2)(f) of the 2009 Act and the NEP, 2020 prescribe that the medium of education or instruction till elementary level shall be in the mother tongue. Thus, the same cannot be changed by way of an administrative decision, like the one taken by the State government in the present case. If the same is to be changed, it can only be done by State Legislature and not even by the Academic Authority.
Further, the Court held that changing the medium as done in the present case was clearly contrary to the provisions of Sections 21, 22, 29(1) and 29(2)(f) of the RTE Act.
The Court also noted a recent Andhra Pradesh High Court judgment Dr. Srinivas Guntupalli Vs. The State of Andhra Pradesh & Ors., in which an identical issue arose and the government notification converting the schools to English medium was quashed as being violative of Articles 21A and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India, apart from being in contravention of provisions of Section 29(2) of the Right to Education Act, 2009 and Sections 7(3) and 7(4) of the Act of Andhra Pradesh Right to Education Act, 1982.
Given that the decision of the State or policy as such was not under challenge, the Bench refused to quash the impugned decision of the State government. The same was only quashed qua Shri Hari Singh Sr. Secondary School.
Since the Petitioners themselves welcomed the decision, the Court directed the State that if it wishes or proposes to convert the school in question to Mahatma Gandhi English Medium School, it shall convene a meeting of the School Development Management Committee. In this context, the Court further directed-
"If the School Development Management Committee by majority of the members present, resolves that the school in question be converted to an English medium school, then only, the State's decision to convert the school in question to a Mahatma Gandhi English Medium School shall be given effect to. Else, the school will not be converted to an English medium school."
In the light of these observations, the High Court allowed the Writ Petition.