When a popular private school in Pune asked Ramesh Gaitonde for covert donations in exchange for his 5-year-old son's admission, the technology entrepreneur was quick to cite the Right to Education Act that bars schools from demanding capitation fees or donations.
But when the school, unperturbed, challenged him to a legal battle, a shocked Gaitonde found that the Maharashtra government had not appointed any local grievance redressal officer he could go to, though the law requires the appointment of these officers.
"It was a betrayal," Gaitonde said. "Not just to me, but to all the young children in India."
Three years after the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act was enacted on April 1, 2010, with an unprecedented televised appeal from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, no state has met all the requirements of the law. But as the March 31, 2013 deadline to comply with the RTE Act requirements comes this weekend, the human resource development (HRD) ministry's latest assessment of the law's implementation - accessed by HT - shows that 24 out of India's 35 states and union territories (UTs) have denied parents and students even the possibility of approaching authorities who are supposed to hear their complaints and give them justice.
In these states and UTs, the governments have not appointed the local grievance redressal officers required under the RTE Act, according to the HRD ministry report that will be shared with state governments on April 2 at a meeting of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), the nation's top education advisory body.
This means that parents who come across schools that seek donations, indulge in corporal punishment, detain students till class 8, hold admission tests or have inadequate facilities or teachers have no one to go and complain to, except courts or state commissions for protection of child rights (SCPCRS), which were meant as appellate authorities, not the place where parents first complain. Only Andhra Pradesh, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Rajasthan have appointed district level grievance redressal officers.
"This is a very major area of concern," said Yamini Aiyar, a senior research fellow at the non-profit Accountability Initiative, who has closely tracked the implementation of the RTE Act since 2010. "Not only do we need grievance redressal officers appointed and available, but we need a publicity campaign on what their roles are."
Currently, there is a lack of clarity on what these officers are empowered to do - a gap in the law's implementation that is preventing the RTE Act from effectively curbing rampant education malpractices like nepotism in admissions, Aiyar said.
"What India needs is a citizen's charter that lays out a clear chain of command to establish accountability," she said.
Most schools - and even local and state governments - are violating key requirements of the RTE Act, the HRD ministry assessment reveals.
Out of the 35 states and union territories, only 18 have revised their curriculum as required and 11.8 lakh out of 52.2 lakh sanctioned teacher posts are vacant. Of the appointed teachers, 20 lakh are unqualified for the job. Desperate to bridge the teacher shortfall, the HRD ministry has exempted 13 states - Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal - from rigorous qualification norms in appointing teachers.
"We realize that this may send a signal that isn't the most appropriate, but we simply don't have a choice," a senior HRD ministry official said. "These 13 states are in a really bad state."
Nationally, only 59% schools have enough teachers, and 62% have ramps for the physically disadvantaged. As many as 35% schools don't have separate toilets for girls and boys, and 6% schools don't even have drinking water.
Delhi, Goa and West Bengal have not even set up school management committees. Made up of school administrators, teachers, parents and local government officials, these committees are meant to oversee the implementation of the RTE Act in each institution.
The absence of any grievance redressal mechanism in most states means that those denied the rights extended to them under the RTE Act have to struggle to even register a complaint against these multiple violations of the law.
Three years after its enactment, the law has changed little for parents like Gaitonde.