The Delhi High Court today quashed a CBSE circular and allowed the sale of non-NCERT books and uniforms at the tuck shops set up at affiliated schools across the country, holding that the sale of such items does not amount to “commercialisation” of education. It said the availability of books, both NCERT and non NCERT, stationery items and uniform in the school premises would only add to the convenience of the parents and the students. A single judge bench of Justice Rekha Palli quashed a circular dated April 19, 2017 issued by Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) advising the schools not to indulge in any commercial activity by way of selling of books, stationery, uniforms and school bags within the premises and to adhere to the provisions of affiliation bye-laws of the Board.
The schools were also directed by the CBSE to desist from the unhealthy practice of coercing the parents to purchase books/uniform from shops within the school premises or from selected vendors only. “The Writ Petition filed by the Petitioners (Association of School Vendors) is allowed and the circular dated April 19, 2017 issued by CBSE is quashed and set aside. “It is further directed that the Petitioners shall not be prohibited from selling of non NCERT books and uniforms also in the tuck shops which have been allowed to be set up in the CBSE affiliated schools for selling NCERT books and stationery items vide circular dated August 24/25, 2017,” the bench said.
The court also quashed the conditions in another circular dated December 18, 2017 prohibiting sale of non-NCERT books in the school shops and directed the CBSE to “take regulatory steps to ensure that the students and parents are not coerced in any manner, to buy any items from these shops”. Dealing with the question of commercialisation of education, Justice Palli said “the availability of books, both NCERT and non NCERT, stationery items and uniform in the school premises would only add to the convenience of the parents and the students”. The court said the use of the school buildings for purposes of education, would put a corresponding duty on the school management to ensure that the students are provided with all necessary facilities to help them pursue education in the school. “The admitted case of the parties is that the aforesaid items in the school shops would be available only to the students of the school and not to outsiders and, therefore, I see no element of commercialisation in sale of these essential items in the school shops,” the judge said.
The court said that if the sale of books and uniform in the school shops without any coercion on the students or parents to buy from these shops, is treated as “commercialisation”, there is no reason why even the sale of food items in canteen would also not be treated as “commercialisation”. “The availability of uniform, non-NCERT reference books or even food items for sale only to the students of the school, in my opinion, does not fall in the category of and cannot at all be considered as ‘commercialisation’,” Justice Palli said. The court said the decision of CBSE to prohibit the sale of items, needed by the students in the schools, merely on the premise that the availability of these items in the school shops for sale, could be misused as the students and parents could be forced to buy them only from the school shop, appears to be “wholly arbitrary” and “quite irrational”.
It said that it may be more in the interest of students that the option to buy books, both NCERT and non NCERT, stationery and uniform items from the school shops should be available to them. “I have no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that the prohibition imposed vide the impugned Circulars, does not satisfy the test of “reasonable restrictions” under Article 19(6) of the Constitution of India,” Justice Palli said.
The court said there was also no justification to place NCERT books and stationery items in the permissible category and placing the non-NCERT books and uniform in the non-permissible category. “There is no valid reason for this classification which is discriminatory on the face of it as it cannot be denied that all these items including uniform, are essential requirements of the students,” the bench said.