Just a month after it was passed by Parliament, the Right to Education (RTE) Act is set to be amended to include all categories of differently-abled children in its ambit. The move comes after an intervention by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) following protests from disabled rights groups. The HRD Ministry has conveyed its decision to amend the Act to the PMO, confirmed highly placed sources. In a climbdown from its earlier stand, it has also admitted that the Section of the Act pertaining to the “disadvantaged section” will have to be changed as it does not cover all disabled children. While the ministry was earlier planning to incorporate enabling provisions in the “Rules” to be framed for the Act, it was later felt that rules alone would not suffice in making it legally binding. Barely a week after the Act was passed, the PMO had written to the HRD Ministry, asking it to ensure that the concerns of the disabled are addressed. HRD Minister Kapil Sibal had assured, both in Parliament and more recently at the meeting of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), that all categories of disabled children would get the benefits of the RTE Act.
The RTE Act proposes free and compulsory education to all children aged between 6 to 14 years, and makes it binding on all public and private schools to reserve 25 per cent of their seats for children from “disadvantaged sections”. Section 3 states that the “disadvantaged sections” will cover children with disabilities as specified under the Persons With Disabilities Act — an Act that is not very comprehensive as it leave out several disabilities like cerebral palsy, autism and other mental disorders. As per the proposed amendment, the RTE Act will now include children also covered under the National Trust Act and any other legislations which deal with those suffering from mental as well as physical disorders. The Bill was at the centre of a row just before it was tabled in the Lok Sabha, with activists alleging that it deliberately excludes disabled children from its ambit. They claimed the Bill ignores the rights of disabled children by not providing for disabled-friendly facilities, not including “disability” within the definition of “disadvantaged sections”, and not including the mentally challenged within the definition of “disabled”. Activists had said that where the Bill defines “disability”, it takes the meaning as given in the Disability Act, 1995, which covers people with physical disabilities only.