By Rina Chandran
MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A court in the Indian state of Rajasthan refused on Wednesday to hear a petition against a state government order that could deny tens of thousands of children their right to free education, dealing a blow to activists' efforts to reverse the order.
Rajasthan state issued an order last month that only children from families classified as Below the Poverty Line, and those belonging to backward castes and tribes, could apply to study in a private school under the Right to Education Act.
The order would deny more than 300,000 children the right to free private-school education in the state, activists say.
The high court said on Wednesday there was "no urgency to hear the petition" against the state, reversing an April 18 decision. A judge said then that the order appeared inconsistent with the intent and spirit of the RTE Act, and fixed a hearing for Wednesday.
The court will next hold a hearing on the issue on May 2, according to Pranjal Singh, founder of non-profit Abhyuthanam Society in Jaipur, which filed the petition.
"The court's decision is very disappointing, it is a huge blow for the state's children who are poor," Singh told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "We will now try to take up the matter with the Supreme Court," he added.
India enacted the landmark Right to Education Act in 2009, giving children from poor and other disadvantaged backgrounds the right to free and compulsory education to the age of 14. Such children can also seek admission to privately funded schools, with the government footing the bill.
The RTE Act has the potential to benefit 16 million such children over the next eight years, according to RTE Resource Centre at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad.
Activists say Rajasthan has had high enrolment rates under the RTE Act because its cap on annual household income that qualifies children for RTE is higher than in many other states, leading to exploitation of the mandate.
Rajasthan government officials have said the new order will benefit the very poor people in the state.
"The number of applications under the RTE was becoming huge and BPL people were being left out," Rajendra Singh Rathore, a spokesman for the state government, told the NDTV news channel.
More than 300 million Indians are estimated to live below the poverty line, which is based on various metrics including land ownership and access to sanitation.
But many of Rajasthan's poor do not have a BPL card, Singh said.
"It is absolutely the wrong criterion for RTE," Singh said.
"The government's failure to put a proper system in place will now deprive many poor kids of the right to education."
($1 = 66.19 Indian rupees)
(Reporting by Rina Chandran, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)