I am of the opinion that government has not violated the Constitution in the class 10 cut off debate.
The confusion has mainly arisen out of understanding Article 9, which is the ‘Principles of State Policy’.
Section 16 of this article says, ‘The State shall provide free education to all children of school going age up to tenth standard and ensure that technical and professional education is made generally available and that higher education is equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.’
The principles of state policy is not as legally definitive or binding as Article 7 or Fundamental Rights. It is more to state the ‘principles’ of state policy. This is why it is purposely kept broad and vague.
For example, another ‘principle of state policy’ is to promote the private sector, but no company can take the government to court for not doing so. In fact, governments routinely get away with actions that are not in the interest of the private sector. An example would be formation of more SOEs.
The same clause says the state shall prevent monopolies but we still have monopolies. An example would be all steel companies coming together to form one steel company (with govt encouragement) to better compete for hydro supply orders against Indian companies.
The Constitution also does not have any other clause that prohibits a government from providing free education in higher classes. They can fund free education as long as minimum reserves of one year’s essential imports are maintained, and we do not seek aid to cover our current expenditure.
For me, the real issue is that instead of giving it to everyone, the government could have instituted need based scholarships. This would have brought down the annual cost and also made it more effective.
Those parents applying for the scholarships could have given an employment proof along with a salary slip to show their need.Unemployed parents can give their CID number to show no proof of PIT or BIT collection.
Farmers can produce a letter from their Gewog of residence to show their farm status and hence need for the scholarship. Business people and small business people who are only making ends meet can be verified from the DRC database of tax collection.
If all fails, then the NSB data on housing and census can be used to verify the income of applicants (with their consent of course).
The government should have then increased the allocation to not only cover fees but also some stipend for the youths as they still have to meet non-fees expenditure like rent etc.
One question a person asked me on Twitter was on if the government has the right to spend such a huge amount without it being passed in the budget report. The simple answer is no, but from what I hear the government instead of creating a new budget head will re-appropriate existing stipends and allocations.
It will have to inform the Parliament during the upcoming budget session. In the meantime, it will have to add this pledge in the 12th plan and incorporate it in the upcoming budget report in Parliament to get funding.
The writer is the Editor of the paper.