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The Predicament of Linguistic Minority Schools

With the intent to enable minorities to protect and preserve their language, culture and religion and also to promote and provide education to minorities in general, Article 30 of the Constitution of India (“CoI”) grants minorities the right to establish and administer educational institutions/schools of their choice. Minority status educational institutions enjoy several rights/liberties and a much higher level of administrative and operational freedom as compared to non-minority institutions. The obligations of a non-minority institution is further compounded by the provisions of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (“RTE Act”), which inter alia requires admission to students of weaker sections and economically deprived community constituting 25% of the total strength of students, an obligation which is not applicable to minority institutions1. Post implementation of the RTE Act, the applications seeking minority status has seen significant increase for the obvious reasons.

The National Commission for Minority Educational Institution (“NCMEI”) was established under the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions Act, 2004 (“NCMEI Act”) to inter alia specify measures to promote and preserve the minority status and character of institutions established by minorities, decide on questions relating to grant of status as a minority educational institution and protect its status as such. In terms of section 10 of NCMEI Act, a minority educational school may apply to the ‘competent authority’ appointed by an ‘appropriate Government’ for seeking minority status. The term ‘appropriate government’ has been defined, to mean:

  • in relation to an educational institution recognized for conducting its programmes of studies under any Act of Parliament, the Central Government; and
  • in relation to any other educational institution recognized for conducting its programmes of studies under any State Act, a State Government in whose jurisdiction such institution is established.

Further, the FAQs and the ‘Manual on Procedure for Filing Application for Minority Status Certificate’, as available on the website of NCMEI, state that a school affiliated to CBSE/ICSE or any central affiliating authority, may submit the application seeking minority status, directly with the NCMEI.

Thus, in view of the foregoing, it appears that:

  • in case the school is a CBSE/ICSE affiliated school, then the application for seeking minority status can be submitted directly with NCMEI; or
  • in case the school is not affiliated with CBSE or ICSE, then the application for seeking minority status will be submitted with the relevant authority authorised by the state government.

That said, it appears that while NCMEI Act does not expressly distinguish between linguistic and religious minorities, however, NCMEI is not accepting any applications (either directly or by way of an appeal against the order of the state minority commission) for grant of minority status certificate to a linguistic minority. While NCMEI Act does not expressly restrict applications by linguistic minorities, Section 2(f) of the NCMEI Act has defined the term ‘minority’ to mean a community notified as such by the Central Government. The Central Government has only notified 6 religious minorities and has not notified any linguistic minorities. Thus, even though section 12B of the NCMEI Act allows educational institutions to file appeals against rejection of application seeking minority status by the state government, it appears that NCMEI does not grant minority status certificates to linguistic minorities.

Reportedly, this stance taken by NCMEI has, however, left many linguistic minority institutions of many states (including from Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh) in a fix, where applications submitted by the institutions for grant of minority status have not been processed by the state authorities for a long time. To make matters worse, since these institutions do not possess a minority status certificate, they are apparently also being asked by the relevant authorities to comply with the provisions of the RTE Act to grant admission to students of economically deprived community constituting 25% of the total strength of students. As stated above, since these institutions are also not being entertained by NCMEI, they are left with virtually no recourse with either the state authorities or NCMEI. Certain institutions have, however, approached the relevant courts in their jurisdiction to seek redressal of the long outstanding issue. But till then, the fate of linguistic minority institutions, who have applied but not been granted minority status or have not been renewed as minority institutions after being granted provisional status, remains uncertain till a final decision is taken by the applicable authorities.

Endnotes:-

1Please refer to the decisions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Society for Unaided Private Schools of Rajasthan v. Union of India (2012) 6 SCC 1; and Pramati Educational & Cultural Trust & Ors v. Union of India & Ors  (2014) 8 SCC 1 on non-applicability of certain provisions of the RTE Act to minority institutions.