The following is the text of a note (minus
annexures)sent to school education authorities in
Delhi, prominent groups in the education Bill
discourse and for communities and schools in Vasant
Kunj area, where efforts in pursuit of a common school
system have been made by citizens' groups.

FREE SEATS CONDITION IN DELHI SCHOOLS
COMMON SCHOOL SYSTEM CONTEXT IMPERATIVES AND
POSSIBILITIES

There have been several developments since Delhi High
Court ordered enforcement of the free seats condition
in Delhi schools. This note outlines from the legal
context of this condition, which flows not from
education law but from the Master Plan for Delhi, a
different perspective on the issue.

DELHI MASTER PLAN PROVISIONS FOR COMMON SCHOOLS SYSTEM

The Master Plan for Delhi (MPD) sets out a schema for
equal access neighbourhood schools, consistent with
Common School System (CSS) (through parity for
teachers, tuition-free education for all, integration
of roles and a neighbourhood school plan) recommended
by Kothari Commission, about which there is consensus.
The MPD CSS provides legal strength to this consensus
since land in Delhi, irrespective of who owns or
allots it, cannot be used in contravention of MPD
under Delhi Development Act.

MPD essentially stipulates numbers of various levels
of schools with population for which they are to be
located and standards for buildings, playgrounds,
parking, etc. These provisions are designed to ensure
adequate schools for all and mainly local population,
a central principle of CSS, with further support from
the lease condition requiring schools to not refuse
admission to local students and, consistent with MPD
provision for 25% housing for the poor in the local
community, the condition for 25% free seats.

FREE SEATS CONDITION IN THE CONTEXT OF MPD-CSS

It is erroneous to connect the free seats condition to
cheap land allotment (which arises from MPD (1962)
assessment of urgency to develop schools) since equal
access neighbourhood schools are mandatory under MPD
CSS irrespective of price charged for school sites.
The free seats condition can be connected only to CSS
local enrollment objectives, also in view of Kothari
Commission CSS recommendation of, ultimately,
tuition-free education for all in neighbourhood
schools. For integration in CSS the Commission
recommended a well planned long-term approach, without
which simplistic enforcement of free seats will not
serve CSS goals, and under MPD also the free seats
condition on its own has little meaning – if the poor
are resettled faraway in violation of MPD they cannot
benefit from it without personal travel / time costs
and energy / environmental costs of increased traffic,
if sites are mis-allotted / misused to encourage
city-wide competitive enrollment then local,
especially poor, students get left out, etc.

COUNTER-PRODUCTIVITY OF ENSURING FREE SEATS IN
ISOLATION

Developments following recent orders show attempts to
enforce free seats in isolation are conflict-prone:
•        Some schools have made their disinclination to teach
the poor obvious, including in the Supreme Court. This
position, contrary to the consensus on CSS, shows
schools as a class in poor light, locks schools and
poor students in conflict and drags other students
into this with the suggestion that they will be
burdened by the favour to the poor, even as the truth
is that schools and their students that have benefited
at cost of rights of local communities, especially
(but not limited to) poor students.
•        On behalf of the poor, the High Court has been
approached on compliance and some organizations are
getting students, such as in faraway resettlement
colonies around which there are no or few private
schools, to demand free seats. This demand, short of
CSS education rights of those making it and possible
to meet only by infringing rights of local students
around schools elsewhere to which it is made, takes a
beggarly position that reinforces the patronizing one
being taken by some schools
•        Most unfortunate is the authorities' response. What
has happened is that GNCTD has been issuing
essentiality certificates, upgradation permissions,
etc, in violation of MPD CSS, both GNCTD and MCD have
been running schools regardless of it, and DDA has
been allotting sites and allowing their use in
disregard of MPD. The lapses have been serious and now
authorities appear to be trying to sweep them under
the carpet, at the cost of allowing the free seats
condition to become 'controversial' and, more
significantly, disconnecting it from CSS on which
there is consensus.

ENFORCING FREE SEATS CONDITION WITH A VIEW TO
PROGRESSIVE IMPLEMENTATION OF CSS

Extending enforcement of free seats in compliance of
court orders to progressive implementation of CSS,
besides being an imperative of planning law as well as
of consensus in principle on CSS (also central to
Education Bill discussions), can potentially provide
elbow room to break the emergent deadlock in Delhi.
Basic premises and imperatives and illustrative
possibilities of this approach are outlined here:

• BASIC PREMISES
1.        Enforcement of free seats condition of land
allotment must further the objectives of the statutory
land use provisions for CSS from which it flows
2.        Exclusive dialogue between select schools and some
authorities must give way to one involving all CSS
parties, especially the aggrieved, viz, communities
including, but not limited to, the poor
3.        City-wide / school-centric attempts must give way
to area level / community-based ones, for which MPD
provides a schema with legal basis for progressive
implementation of CSS.

• IMPERATIVES / BOUNDARIES OF FLEXIBILITY
(a)        The courts have made it clear that the free seats
condition for land allotment cannot be violated.
Likewise, land allotment conditions for local
enrollment, type of school, etc, cannot be violated.
(b)        Land allotment conditions as well as other
procedural regimes (eg, essentiality / upgradation
permissions, taxation categorization, etc) must also
conform to MPD and approved layout plans.
(c)        MPD provisions govern land use and are mandatory
irrespective of who owns or allots the land and all
(including government) schools must conform to MPD
standards for school sites.
(d)        For the community (including, but not limited to,
students and poor) MPD CSS benefits are entitlements,
not open to modification or interpretation as favour
by schools and/or authorities.
(e)        For the community it is irrelevant who is
responsible for MPD CSS violations and if individual
violations are penalized or condoned, as long as
entitlements are restored at community level.
(f)        For public confidence in education providers
authorities and schools can not be seen as being in
any sort of 'nexus' about denial of CSS entitlements
of the community.

• ILLUSTRATIVE POSSIBILITIES
(1)        Legitimate flexibility is possible in matters
currently seeing attempts to shirk legal obligations:
•        Instead of trying to simplistically 'adjust' the
percentage of free seats to 20%, 15%, etc, flexibility
could be worked out to ensure overall percentage /
equivalent of 25% for the local community, with
incentives and penalties for variations in individual
cases.
•        Instead of 'alternatives' like separate classes for
the poor after school hours at the whim of individual
schools, options equivalent to 25% free seats could be
formalized, especially in partnership with government
schools, for progressive implementation of CSS.
•        Instead of fee hikes or government subsidies to
'finance' free seats, etc, differential fee for
non-local and local enrollment could be considered in
pursuit of statutory objectives of local enrollment
underlying the CSS concept.
(2)        Compliance of orders for free seats can be used to
put in place mechanisms required by MPD / recommended
by Kothari Commission for progressive implementation
of CSS, such as for:
•        Area-based dialogue among all communities, schools
and authorities for community-specific plans for
compliance apropos free seats as well as for a plan
for phased enforcement of CSS
•        Assessment of, besides free seats condition
violations, connected MPD CSS violations with a view
to rectifying their causes and for clarity in
community-specific phased plans for CSS.
•        Partnerships for reducing differences among /
ensuring neccessary conditions in all CSS schools and
also to explore possibilities for equivalents to 25%
free seats in specific contexts.
•        Flexibility (within boundaries of area level MPD CSS
imperatives) for protecting individuality of schools,
which can also throw up innovations apropos free
seats, besides for CSS.
•        Immediate commitments to (a) convergence of all
school education interventions in a community in a
common CSS plan, (b) time-bound implementation of
local enrollment, and (c) starter initiatives for
confidence building, eg, summer camps for poor
students, etc.