The right to education

Published : Jan 20, 2001 00:00 IST

'Scimitars in the sun'

In her interview to N. Ram, Arundhati Roy has defended, ably and convincingly in my view, her right to write on major social problems ("Scimitars in the sun", January 19). The position that some academics take that social issues must be commented on only by those who are specially trained for the purpose is fallacious and dangerous. For, like wars, social problems are too serious to be left entirely to professionals. Also, long before professional training in the social sciences started and indeed even after such training became common, people from many walks of life were inquiring into social problems, commenting on them and even suggesting solutions for them. Trained social scientists may differ from such writers in terms of approach, procedures and techniques. But that does not make their writings more reliable or even more perceptive. Granted that people from many walks of life write on social problems and place their writings in the public domain, what must be insisted upon is that all of them, p rofessionals and non-professionals alike, must be careful in the use of factual materials and the inferences drawn from them. There will be differences on the use of facts and their interpretations, but that is precisely the reason why people with differ ent perspectives must deal publicly with live social issues, supplementing one another, criticising and challenging one another.

In one of his writings the late Paul Baran, a noted American social scientist, drew a distinction between intellectual workers and intellectuals. The former are those who use their intellect to earn a living and, of course, there are ways to train people to do so. Intellectuals, on the other hand, are those who see their work in relation to the work of others because they see their lives in relation to the lives of others around them. It is a commonly observed fact that many trained intellect workers pr oudly remain mere intellect workers concerned more about protocols than about problems. Not surprisingly, they tend to be dismissive of other approaches and voices, arrogating to themselves the right to make pronouncements on what they consider to belong exclusively in their domain, and advising others to stick to their corners. Pity they do not realise their folly.

C.T. Kurien Chennai* * *

Perusing the cover story, I believe that most new writers are moralists and Arundhati Roy is no exception. Passing a 'moral judgment' while espousing a cause becomes a conviction. Unfortunately, such writers do not assess the 'risk-benefit' ratio as is t he case with the NBA on the Sardar Sarovar dam. The nuclear issue and other essentially commercial and economic issues of national relevance are also cases in point.

Further, public sector undertakings are not 'dharmashalas' to feed indisciplined workers and therefore privatisation and corporatisation are essential for "quality" products which, in the longer run, work out cheaper.

A.S. Raj Received on e-mailSoli Sorabjee and the Hindujas

I have generally found Sudha Mahalingam's articles well researched and objective. Regrettably, her article entitled "Soli Sorabjee and the Hindujas" disappointed me (January 19).

First, although the full text of the internal confidential minutes of the solicitors is set out, no mention has been made in the article of that part of the minutes which states that "the Attorney-General said that he could not provide any opinion on the lenders (or anyone else) unless the Government of India expressly authorised him to do so". Secondly, the subjective impressions of the author of the minutes are attributed to Sorabjee as if they are his own statements. Thirdly, there is no reference to Sorabjee's press statement in which he categorically denied having made any statement during the London meeting that he would use his position to influence any Minister or Ministries in order to pass favourable orders in favour of the power company. Fou rthly, the reference to the telecom opinion and the innuendo about the Attorney-General's "helpfulness" were uncalled for. The telecom opinion has been the subject of discussion in the previous issues of Frontline. This very issue is sub-judice in the Delhi High Court and it is inappropriate to discuss it. Fifthly, the title of the article portrays Sorabjee in a bad light.

The opinion given by Sorabjee coincides with the opinions given by two former Chief Justices of India and Senior counsel Fali S. Nariman. It was given after confirmation in writing by the Government of India that it was also anxious to have his opinion o n the true scope and effect of the counter-guarantee given by it. There is nothing unusual in this because the issue related to the construction of the terms of the counter-guarantee and both the parties, that is, the Government of India and the power co mpany, were interested in knowing its correct scope and interpretation. Besides it is a standard practice of international lending institutions like the World Bank, the IFC and the Asian Development Bank to have the opinion of a law officer of the Govern ment of India furnished by the Government while availing itself of a loan from those institutions. There can be no conflict of interest in such a case. Imputations of impropriety against the late P.R. Kumaramangalam in this context are based on mere pres umptions and are unwarranted.

Sorabjee's suggestion that a joint meeting be held in Delhi attended by officials of the Ministries concerned and lawyers representing the power company and the lenders was obviously with a view to sort out pending issues expeditiously so that the power project could be implemented speedly which was in the interest of all the parties, including the Government of India. It is unfair to read into this practical suggestion any sinister motive of favouring the power company.

A significant omission is that at the joint meeting held in the Attorney-General's chamber on June 17, 1999, the plea of the company that the letter of acknowledgement should contain a statement to the effect that "We (Government of India) hereby confirm that each condition precedent mentioned in paragraph of the said counter guarantee has been fulfilled" was rejected by the Attorney-General. Under the revised procedure for counter-guarantee as per the Government of India's decision dated May 16, 1998 i t is not the obligation of the Government of India to examine the power purchase agreement after it has been examined by the State electricity board and the State government.

Till date the counter guarantee has not come into force and effect because the Andhra Pradesh government has not certified that the conditions precedent mentioned in Clause 9(1)(i) of the counter-guarantee have been fulfilled. No acknowledgement has been issued by the Government of India. No benefit whatsoever was conferred on the power company.

The allegation and innuendos made against the Attorney-General with regard to the London meeting on June 3 are totally unjustified in the light of the clarification from the London solicitors and the Attorney-General's press statement.

To any fair-minded person there is no question of Sorabjee having committed or compounded any impropriety at all.

C.S. Vaidyanathan Senior Advocate New Delhi

IN his column "Beyond the Obvious" ("Subverting the right to education", January 5, 2001), Praful Bidwai hopes that the proposed Constitution (83rd) Amendment Bill gets 'resoundingly defeated' in Parliament, or better still, is completely dropped, for re asons which he has attempted to argue. Before commenting on his position, I would like to present the larger framework within which the move to make elementary education a fundamental right needs to be understood and appreciated.

The importance of universalising education has been widely noted. The role of education in breaking intergenerational vicious spirals of poverty, deprivation, discrimination and exclusion has been recognised. Education for children and schools as institu tions are now being looked upon as being central to any change process that is meant to benefit children. Universalising elementary education has never been a burning issue in our country and it remains an under-invested sector owing to mounting external debts and the structural adjustment programme.

Paradoxically, India has paid lip-service to 'education as a human right' on every important international platform, right from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) to the most recent Dakar Framework of Action on Education for All (2000).

However, in concrete terms, our country has miserably failed to meet this basic obligation. Thanks to our benevolent judiciary, we can now at least flaunt around with case law in recognition to our commitment. At a more grassroots level, research shows t hat there is a definite demand from people for education. Mass based campaigns such as the National Alliance for Fundamental Right to Education and the Campaign Against Child Labour have seen the criticality of universalising education and have been acti vely campaigning to make elementary education a fundamental right. These campaigns have been arduously bringing together organisations, synergising their potentials for making elementary education a fundamental right. It is within this context that one m ust examine Bidwai's statements on the proposed Constitutional amendment.

Since the time our Constitution was drafted, the government has habitually pushed time-frames related to the goal of elementary education. First it was Article 45, which gave the government 10 years to perform its duties. Later on it was the National Pol icy for Education, 1986, and the Revised Policy Formulations, 1992, which adopted an incremental approach, and now it is the new Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, which throws up new time-frames. These time-frames have never been taken seriously and have been used to accommodate failures conveniently, without a serious public appraisal. Is this not a shameful mockery of the government's commitment to the basic entitlements of the child? A Constitution amendment will place the responsibility squarely on the governm ent, and by making it a justiciable right the government will be forced to take its legal obligation seriously. If it does not do so, it would have to face litigation and answer the courts. Furthermore, 'impracticality' of implementation cannot be a reas on to drop the proposed amendment. One has not stopped prohibiting social evils simply because their prohibition would be difficult to implement. It is absurd to say that positive rights should not be granted because the state may not implement them seri ously. The role of law in laying down a certain basic normative framework should not be forgotten.

WITH due respect to the author, it appears that the article is based on inadequate research and shoddy analysis. First, it is based on the 1997 draft Bill. The 1999 draft Bill, prepared subsequent to the report from the Law Commission, is an improvement with regard to the serious lacunae of the earlier draft. It drops the provision related to exemption of private educational institutions and retains a revised Article 45. Whether this revised Bill will finally get introduced in the Cabinet is for all to see. The Bill has all along recognised the duty of the state to provide educational facilities to children. It is this paradigm shift that makes it more progressive than the punitive state laws that were drafted during British Raj.

Statements such as 'child is not a citizen' and 'citizens alone enjoy certain rights' are shocking, erroneous, and dangerous. The author's apprehensions about the right being granted only to Indian children are unwarranted since our laws (the Constitutio n of India and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child that India has ratified) do not permit the state to discriminate in the matter of provision of education and on grounds of citizenship. Seeing communal overtones in the Bill is unnec essary and may act as an open invitation for vested interests to communalise the issue.

I agree with Bidwai on the need to include children between zero-six years in the state-supported educational facilities and on raising the budgetary allocation for elementary education. The figure of Rs.8,000 crores, or even the more recent Rs.140,000 c rores over the next 10 years proposed by the Tapas Mazumdar Committee, is not entirely sufficient to universalise quality education. The government has been lethargic and children's issues have not been its priority. We do not want the civil society and the media to tell the government not do to anything. Instead of dissuading the government from taking progressive steps (which is in any case a rarity), we need to put together our energies to strengthen the movement.

Dr. Archana Mehendale BangaloreCorrection
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