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Private schools are “profit centres”, the Delhi high court on Thursday observed while hearing arguments in a PIL seeking grant of free books and uniforms to children belong to the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) category admitted to private unaided schools.

A bench of justices Badar Durrez Ahmed and Siddharth Mridul made the observation in response to the claim of an association of private schools that uniforms in their institutes cost more than Rs. 6,000 annually.

“The reality is it (a private school) is a profit centre,” the court said.

The bench was also of the view that free and compulsory education under the Right to Education (RTE) Act includes providing free uniforms and text books to kids belonging to the EWS category.

“Therefore, the question that is to be answered is whether non-provision of uniforms and text books, free of cost, will hamper completion of elementary education as mandated under the Act,” the court said.

The bench also said that its “whole aim and objective” is to ensure that kids belonging to EWS and disadvantaged groups are not denied elementary education as provided under the Act. “Children should not suffer,” it said.

It also advised the schools to provide the uniforms and books free of cost to EWS students, saying they will be reimbursed for the same by the Delhi government.

It said the Delhi government will reimburse the schools for providing books of those publications that the institutes have prescribed and not only for National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) books.

“They (the government) can’t say they will only reimburse you for NCERT books. If they say so, we will not accept it,” the bench said.

The court will continue to hear arguments on October 13.

The schools, however, claimed they do not provide books and uniforms to any student as the same would fall under commercial activity, which they cannot carry out.

They also submitted that the Delhi government provided reimbursement only to schools which are on private land and no such relief is given to those who have obtained land from the government at concessional or institutional rates.

The Delhi government, on the other hand, contended that it does provide some amount of reimbursement to schools on government land.

The high court had on September 18 slammed the “insensitive” city government for its “wonky policy” with regard to providing uniforms to children of economically weaker sections studying in private schools, saying it will create a “class divide” among children as well as “change their moral fabric”.

The bench had made the observations after perusing the Delhi government’s Directorate of Education’s (DoE) affidavit stating that it is annually providing Rs. 500 to children up to class V and Rs. 700 to those in classes VI to VIII in its schools for buying uniforms.

The court had earlier pulled up the city government for not giving free books and uniforms to EWS and disadvantaged group (DG) students studying in unaided private schools in Delhi.

Earlier, the government had submitted a status report saying that out of 70,000 children from poor and disadvantaged families, around 17,500 have been provided books free of cost in this academic year.

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