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The Supreme Court Wednesday said that public-private partnership for achieving the goal of universalisation of education up to Class 8 has to be based on a viable formula and can not be accomplished on the basis of charity.

An apex court bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice K.S. Panikar Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatanter Kumar said: ‘If you (the central government) talk about the public-private partnership it can’t be based on charity.’

In such a situation ‘after a few years every one (the private schools) will become poor’, the court said.The court was hearing of a batch of petitions by private schools challenging the provisions of the Right to Education law that provides for mandatory reservation of 25 percent seats for poor students.

Observing that the objects of the law were laudable, Chief Justice Kapadia said: ‘If we go by the public-private partnership (PPP) then we will have see alternatives to make it viable. If it is charity then all will collapse.’

Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati opposed the challenge to the law by the private education institutions.The attorney general said that the petitioner schools have been shifting the focus of their challenge to the right to education law.

Vahanvati told the court that initially their plea was that earmarking 25 percent seats for students from the weaker sections would hit their excellence.

Vahanvati said their plea was that such admission would have a crippling affect on their finances. Their theoretical argument was that ‘we will die (financially). We will have to close down’.

He said that none of the private schools was being asked to provide free education to 25 percent students coming from socio-economically weaker sections. The government would reimburse the expenses incurred by them.

‘If the expenses are reimbursed then where is the loss,’ Vahanvati said.As the attorney general sought to make a reference to the practice in America, Chief Justice Kapadia said that standards of education in private and public schools in the US were nearly same and that was not the case in India.

‘The imbalance (between government and private schools ) is so wide that all these problem are created. Teachers don’t attend schools. They are given other responsibilities,’ said Chief Justice Kapadia.

‘You (government) are spending so much. You must spend for strengthening these schools,’ the court said.The judges said that in South Africa they spend seven percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) on education, yet they were facing problems because of the high costs of education and they were opting for the PPP route.The court expressed worry on the provisions of the right to education law providing for doing away with examinations till Class 8.

‘There should be some system of assessment before a student is promoted to the next class,’ the court said.

Such a student will not be able to stand the competition for higher education with others who climbed the academic ladder on merit, the Chief Justice said.Vahanvati will continue his argument Thursday.

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