Is the right to education a fundamental right under the constitution of India: Andhra Pradesh High Court

Education is not a luxury but a basic human right, the Andhra Pradesh High Court passed a judgment supporting this statement in the case of Unni Krishna v. State of Andhra Pradesh (Writ Petition (C) No.607 of 1992), through the learned bench lead by Sharma, L.M. (Cj) in the year 1993. Although the right to education is not expressly mentioned in the Fundamental rights, still Articles 38, 39(a), (f), 41, and 45 of the Indian constitution make it obligatory for the state to provide education to citizens. Article 21 provides the right to live with dignity which cannot be achieved without the right to education. UNDHR by the United Nations in several cases that held the right to life encompasses more than “life and limb” including necessities of life, nutrition, shelter, and literacy.

Charging such high capitation fees makes education inaccessible, providing education should not be a business but rather be recognized as a charity and duty, and charging such high capitation fees leads to a violation of article 14 of the constitution.

Facts of the case: – As the government lacked the budget and sources to provide education to such a large population, it started regulating the private institutions to curb this problem. Later these private institutions approached the court filing petition and challenging the state reservation law with regulated fees charged by private institutions and also rejecting the idea of donations to these private institutions as well as regulated seats according to which few seats of these private institutions shall be given to the government so that it can provide free education for once in need through government quota. Due to this the private institutions were suffering losses and also receiving less return on their investments. The state brought a law that gave directions to regulate the capitation fee charges in the states of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. Petitions also paved the way to question the precedent set by the landmark judgment of Mohini Jain v. State of Karnataka. The scope of Article 21 was also challenged with the right to higher education as the right to compulsory education by the government was only for children aged below 14 years, therefore the question was if the right was given to children above the age of 14 years.

Judgment: – The petitioner argued that education institutions shall be treated as an industry and asked the court to uphold their right under Article 19(1)(g), they asked for the right to earn revenue, the right to profit, and the right to take capitation fees. They also argued that private institutions do not fall under the ambit of article 12, meaning it is not considered State, so private colleges do not become instruments of the state by affiliating or recognizing themselves to the government. Therefore, no state government has the right to regulate the functions of these private institutions, as such acts may affect the quality of the education they provide. Hence they are not states and so they are under no obligation to provide free education, and so the institution should be given the autonomy to collect fees and money.

The state argued that it is not possible for the government to provide free education to students above the age of 14 years due to a lack of economic resources, as the government does not have enough budget and only limits itself to primary education as stated in article 45. The state also argued that providing education is not commercialization and the institution shall have some responsibility towards the nation. The state also argued that the private institutions are exploiting the general public by charging a lot of fees and there is a need to regulate their fee structure.

After listening to both the parties the court came up with issues like does the fundamental right of citizens is applicable for medical, engineering, or other professional degrees, and does the constitution of India guarantees a fundament right to education to its citizens as there is no expressed fundamental right stating the right to education, also is there is a fundamental right to establish an educational institution under Article 19(1)(g). They also questioned whether private unaided recognized affiliated educational institutions running professional courses are entitled to charge a fee higher than that charged by government institutions.

While delivering the judgment the court held that the right to education only exists for children below the age group of 14 years under Article 21, court also held that 19(1)(g) allows colleges to earn profits, but the fees will be regulated by the government. And the court also directed the state to regulate these colleges by asking all the private colleges to be compulsory affiliated. According to the court, the establishment of colleges must only be through trust. Another controversial direction given by the court was to reserve 50% of its seats which will be filled through the Centre Entrance Test(CET) only. The court was of the opinion that education should not be commercialized and the college has the right to earn profit to a limited extent, therefore capitation fees were denied but adequate fees to be charged were permitted. The maximum fees to be charged shall be fixed by a fee fixation committee (fee ceiling).

Therefore, it is safe to say that this remarkable judgment upheld the ethos of a welfare state and ensured the right to education is provided, and separated it from market forces and commercialization. The Unni Krishna judgment diluted the effect of the Mohini Jain Judgement but still higher education was regulated.

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