Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is keen to get the Right to Education (RTE) Bill passed during the monsoon session of parliament, paving the way for free and compulsory primary education for children between six and 14 years of age.
The prime minister, who is keen to implement the Rs.125 billion per year programme as it would address issues concerning child labour, adequate nutrition for children, gender bias and special care for children with disability, referred the RTE Bill 2005 to the Group of Ministers (GoM) through the union cabinet which met on Friday.
The annual programme, to make primary education free and compulsory for the country's 192 million children, has been referred to the GoM which would look into sharing of funds between states and the central government for the project, union Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal informed reporters after the cabinet meeting.
Union Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh has been writing to state governments to come on board for this programme. But states want the central government to foot the entire financial burden.
Apart from funding, states also have a problem with the proposed legislation as it has made it mandatory for them to extend free education to all children between 6-14 years of age.
"We had earlier proposed to states to fund 25 percent for the RTE programme, but they refused. Now the GoM will have to take a view if it is feasible for the central government to take over the entire financial burden to run the scheme," said an HRD ministry official.
The government had earmarked Rs.840 billion towards education in the 11th Plan (till 2012) - which is five times that during the 10th plan. But the RTE programme alone will have a budget of Rs.125 billion per annum to make primary education free and compulsory for 192 million children, said an official.
"Without ensuring the free and compulsory aspect of primary education, the 86th amendment to the constitution, that makes primary education a fundamental right, will remain on paper," a government official said.
"This was precisely the problem faced by Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. It is free, but not mandatory. Along with the mid-day meal scheme, the idea is to give more teeth to this flagship programme," he explained.
Earlier, the Kothari Commission on education in the 1960s had recommended the Right to Education, but it remained on paper for decades, said officials.
The RTE Bill once approved would make it obligatory for private unaided schools to set aside 25 per cent of the seats at the entry level (Class 1) for disadvantaged children.