Petition to challenge the constitutionality of a "capitation fee" imposed by private medical colleges, charging higher tuition to students that are not admitted to "government seats"; Whether the Indian Constitution guarantees a right to education; Whether such fees violate Art. 14 of the Constitution; Whether there was a violation of the provisions of the Karnataka Educational Institutions (Prohibition of Capitation Fee) Act; Relationship between the right to life and the right to education; Relationship between the dignity of man and the right to education; Equality Rights; Directive Principles; State Action/Agency.
This petition was brought to challenge the constitutionality of imposing a "capitation fee" (a fee based on the number of persons to whom a service is provided, rather than the actual cost of providing a service) on those people who wanted to enter a private medical school and were not admitted to the "government seats". These seats are reserved by the Government of India for members of communities that are explicitly recognized by the Indian Constitution as requiring support to overcome historic discrimination, or other groups designated by the government. The private medical school charged Rs. 2.000 for students admitted to "government seats", but Rs. 25.000 for those not admitted to "government seats" from within the state and Rs. 60.000 for students not admitted to "government seats" from a different state. The main issues at stake were whether there is a "right to education" guaranteed to the people of India under the Constitution and whether the charging of capitation fees violates this right and/or the equality clause in Article 14 of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court held that although the right to education as such has not been guaranteed as a fundamental right under the Constitution, it becomes clear from the Preamble of the Constitution and its Directive Principles, contained in section IV, that the framers of the Constitution intended the State to provide education for its citizens. The court then relates the Directive Principle of Article 14 which requires that the state attempt to implement the right to education within its economic capacity. The court then reasons that this principle creates a constitutional right to education because education is essential to the fulfillment of the fundamental rights of dignity and life. The court links the right to education to the right to life by reasoning that to sustain life a human being requires the fulfilment of all the enabling rights which create life of dignity. In doing this, the court pointed to numerous cases which held that the right to life encompassed more than life and limb, but also dignity and the necessities of life, such as nutrition, clothing shelter, and literacy. Without dignity, the court explains, the right to life is not fulfilled. It was the court's opinion that one is only able to obtain a dignified life in India through education, making education fundamental to the right to life, and therefore an obligation of the State to fulfil.
The court also held that accessibility to education should be realized for all people, rich or poor. If the government decides to discharge its obligation through private educational institutions, it has created an agency-relationship, through which it can fulfil its obligations under the Constitution. This private institution is bound by the same requirements and cannot charge higher tuition fees than those established for "government seats". The court found that a "capitation fee" makes education unaffordable and therefore not accessible to the poor. It also held that such a fee is arbitrary and violative of Article 14 (Equality Clause) because it bases admission on income, rather than merit. Finally, the court also determined this fee was not a tuition fee as the respondents claimed, but a capitation fee, which violated the Karnataka Educational Institutions (Prohibition of Capitation Fee) Act.
Keywords: Mohini Jain v. State of Karnataka (1992 AIR 1858), Equality, Nondiscrimination
The Court granted the petition and struck down the payment of capitation fee as a condition for entry into any educational institution, prospectively, while denying admission to the Petitioner. In Unni Krishnan v State of Andhra Pradesh (1993), the Supreme Court confirmed this decision that the right to education indeed flowed directly from the right to life, which poses an obligation on the State to provide basic education to all citizens during their childhood. However, it expressed its disagreement that this right is guaranteed at all levels, and rather only required basic education for children under 14 years old. In the subsequent case of M.C. Mehta v State of Tamil Nadu & Ors (1996), the Supreme Court stated that Article 45 had acquired the status of a fundamental right following the Constitutional Bench's decision in Unni Krishnan.
The more notable part of the judgment was its insistence that the right to education be read as an integral part of the right to life guaranteed under Article 21, Part III. The decision of the Court that the fulfillment of the right to life requires a life of dignity, and therefore must be interpreted to include economic and social rights, has been extended by the Indian Courts to ensure rights to food, water, and health.
For the Petitioner: Vijay Pandit, R. Sathish, Advocates For the Respondents: Santosh Hegde, Senior Advocate, R. Jagannatha Gouley. M.K. Dua, K.H. Nobin Singh, Manoj Sarup, C.S. Vaidyanathan, K.V. Mohan, Anita Lalit, and M. Veerappa, Advocates