Noble purpose of EWS quota can’t be defeated by excuse that students seeking admission live too far away from school, says Delhi High Court

In a case where two students were denied admission under the reservation for economically weaker or disadvantaged sections for not meeting neighbourhood limit criteria, relief was granted by the Delhi High Court on Wednesday.


IF seats reserved in schools for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and Disadvantaged Groups (DG) are “allowed to go to waste” merely on the ground that an applicant does not meet the prescribed neighbourhood criteria under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act), then the whole purpose of such reservation will be defeated, the Delhi High Court ruled on Wednesday.

Justice Mini Pushkarna of the high court was hearing two petitioners who had been denied admission to Delhi’s Happy Hours School for not fulfilling the neighbourhood criteria. This, despite being successful in the draw of lots under the EWS or DG category, conducted by the Directorate of Education (DoE).

The social purpose of reservation of seats under the EWS/DG category cannot be allowed to be lost,” Justice Pushkarna held, directing the school to grant admission to the two petitioners in Class 1. 

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Under Section 12(1)(c) of the RTE Act, private unaided institutions and special category schools are mandated to grant 25 percent of the available seats to EWS or DG category of children from the neighbourhood and admit them in Class 1. They need to provide free and compulsory elementary education till its completion. Such schools are entitled to be reimbursed later by the concerned state government on a per-child-expenditure basis.

While noting that only limited seats are available for admission under the EWS or DG category and the number of applicants are higher than the seats available, the high court stated that it “may not be possible for the Directorate of Education to follow the criteria of neighbourhood strictly. Therefore, it is held that in cases of admission under the EWS/DG category, the schools in question may not insist upon following the neighbourhood criteria strictly.

However, keeping the RTE Act’s purpose of ensuring that children reside geographically close to their school, the high court directed the DoE to “endeavour, as far as possible, to allot schools which are nearest to the residence of the students in question.”

Admission denied for residing too far

The two petitioners in the case were denied admission to Happy Hours School on the ground that the residence of the petitioners is approximately 4 kilometres away from the school. Hence, they do not fulfil the neighbourhood criteria. It was further submitted that the school does not provide any transportation to the areas where the petitioners reside.

The petitioners had informed the school that they were willing to travel the said distance.

Under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules (Delhi), 2009, the areas or limits of neighbourhood shall be 2 kilometres in respect of children in classes 1–5 and 5 kilometres for classes 6–12. 

The state government may extend these limits from time to time for the purpose of filling up the requisite percentage of seats, as per the Rules.

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The said Rules also prescribe that children admitted under the EWS or DG category shall not be discriminated against vis-à-vis the rest of the children in any manner pertaining to entitlements and facilities such as text books, uniforms, library facilities, extra-curricular and sports.

It was submitted by the DoE that schools are allotted under the EWS or DG category as per the choice of the schools as given in the application form by the applicants.

The DoE also stated that the criteria of neighbourhood is not followed strictly by the DoE at the time of allotment of schools under the EWS or DG category, since the number of applicants under the said category are greater than the available number of seats.

HC: ‘Purpose of such reservation will be defeated’

Taking into the consideration the above submission, the high court observed that if seats are available under the EWS or DG category in a particular school, then the DoE is required to allot such school to the applicant. 

If seats under the EWS or DG category are allowed to go waste, merely on the ground that the applicants who have been allotted such seats do not meet the neighbourhood criteria strictly, then the whole purpose of reservation of seats for admission under the said category will be defeated,” the high court stated.

The court “cannot be oblivious to the noble purpose” with which such reservation and criteria were developed, Justice Pushkarna added.

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The primary purpose of the RTE Act is to provide to every child between ages 6–14 years the right to free and compulsory education in a neighbourhood school. Yet, the RTE Act does not restrict the choice of the child to seek admission in a school which may not be in the neighbourhood of the child’s residence, as the Ministry of Education has spelled out in a document titled ‘Clarifications on provisions’.While directing the Happy Hours School to grant admission to the petitioners who admittedly do not live in neighbourhood limits, the high court confirmed that the RTE Act’s emphasis on neighbourhood schooling should not be construed as a restriction on choice. 

As per the court’s directions, the petitioners shall be admitted to class 1 under the EWS or DG category. They have accordingly been directed to approach the school with all the requisite documents.

However, in view of the school’s submission that it does not provide transportation to the areas where the petitioners reside, the petitioners were asked by the court to make their own arrangements for commuting to and from school and not insist the school provide the same.

This order is being passed keeping in view the fact that the children belonging to the weaker sections of the society are to be given equal opportunities for education in good schools, so that such students are able to come in[to] the mainstream of the society,” the high court concluded.

Click here to read the Delhi High Court’s order in the case of Tarun Kumar And Anr versus The Principal, Happy Hours School And Ors W.P.(C) 7953/2023 & CM APPLs. 30622-30623/2023