Recently the High Court of Andhra Pradesh in Nalanda Education Society and Others v. Government of Andhra Pradesh, while dealing with a challenge to the regulation of fee structure for the pupils studying in the private and corporate schools, took serious cognizance of the general and increasingly strident complaints by parents and students, that there is crass commercialisation of education, which is reaching alarming proportions.
Hon’ble Justice Goda Raghuram speaking for the Bench observed:
“Post Independence, India witnessed a gradual transformation, from an initial stage of the State being the principal provider of educational infrastructure and regulator of formal education to being a supporter (grants-in-aid) and to now being largely a mere regulator, contouring and determining academic and faculty standards and infrastructural norms. The State is steadily and inexorably withdrawing from the funding of educational infrastructure at all levels and is content to merely regulate. Education is now exponentially and largely a free market commodity. With accelerating privatization and an ever increasing demand for education, alongside well meaning philanthropists committed to altruistic support to education, came the carpetbaggers. The scourge of commercialization of education looms large; education is now big business and is occasionally or often pursued with a cynical and ruthless disregard for the raft of intermeshing values that must substrate a rational, benign and sustainable medium for accretion, dissemination and transmission of the wealth of accumulated human knowledge, within a generation or across generations. The Indian State has now a new and emergent item on its governance agenda – containing the rampaging sociopathy of the commercialization of education.”
Despite these observations, the Court set aside an attempted regulation of fee structure by the Government of Andhra Pradesh as being a misadventure. The Court held that the State must evolve effective and sensitive tools to regulate the educational sphere, to maintain that delicate balance between academic and operational autonomy of private unaided educational institutions and the legitimate Governmental interest in ensuring that these private entities do not indulge in profiteering.
Justice Raghuram observed: “In the matter of fee regulation the State must maintain that delicate balance; between permissible regulation to verify and prevent profiteering and collection of capitation fee by the management of a private unaided educational institution in whatsoever form, garb, guise or camouflage on the one hand and avoidance of undue intrusion into the operational, managerial and academic autonomy of the institution, on the other. This balance is the nucleus and essence of the guaranteed right under Article 19(1)(g). The fee regulating authority must be sensitive to and conscious of the broad spectrum of academic and operational autonomy that inheres in a private unaided educational institution….The instruments of regulation must be nuanced and appropriately calibrated to ensure effective but non-invasive oversight.”
According to the Court, an effective execution of the role of a regulator was possible only through informed discourse and a rational analysis after due consultation with relevant areas of expertise.
A perusal of the judgment drives home hard, the fact that it is high time, that the Governments evolve with utmost expedition, fair and effective instruments to curb profiteering and the collection of capitation fees. However since regulation of the educational sphere ‘is a pious platitude which is not calculated to give any mileage either to the politician or to his political party,’ one wonders if it is time for governments to pass on the baton to independent regulators.
(Pavan Kumar is a Hyderabad-based advocate.)