LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) has ordered the provincial government to make rules under the Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2014 to ensure compliance of the law at private schools.

Expressing concerns at the absence of the rules even after the lapse of 10 years of the passage of the law, Justice Raheel Kamran Sheikh observed that the private education sector, which was supposed to share the responsibility of right to education of the disadvantaged children, had benefitted from the inaction on part of the government.

“At best, it shows an obvious neglect of the government whereas, at worst, it may well be a case of regulatory capture warranting inquiry,” the judge added in a verdict passed on a petition by a private school against denial of registration certificate in Sahiwal.

The judge noted that access to free and compulsory education is a universally acknowledged right of all children. He said by insertion of Article 25-A of the Constitution, an obligation had been cast upon the state to ensure provision of free and compulsory education to all children between the age of five to 16 years.

Allows petition of a private school for affiliation with Sahiwal board

Justice Sheikh said legislation for free education was enacted by the Punjab Assembly in 2014 but the court was at a complete loss in comprehending how the disadvantaged children could be denied their right to education, which is their fundamental right, owing to procrastination of the government, which failed to frame and notify rules in discharge of its responsibilities.

The Beaconhouse School System, Okara, had filed the petition against the denial of issuance of a school registration certificate/E-license for affiliation with the Board of Intermediate & Secondary Education (BISE) Sahiwal and permission to its students to participate in the board’s examination.

A counsel for the petitioner/school mainly argued that the District Registration Authority (DRA) took a penal action in absence of the rules under Section 13(b) of the Punjab Free & Compulsory Education Act, 2014, which deals with the responsibilities of private schools for free education.

On the other hand, the chief executive officer DRA said although no rules had been framed by the government for the purpose of enforcement of Section 13(b) of the Act, all notable schools in Okara district complied with the requirements on their own. He said if the petitioner furnished information in similar terms, the DRA shall extend the school registration of the petitioner forthwith.

Justice Sheikh allowed the petition and set aside the impugned orders by the DRA and the commissioner with a direction to ensure registration of the petitioner-school if conditions other than those specified in Section 13(b) of the Act were satisfied and the Sahiwal education board shall also ensure that students of the petitioner-school were duly registered for the secondary examinations.

The judge also directed the government of Punjab to fulfill its obligation to frame rules, inter alia, to prescribe the criteria for the determination of disadvantaged children or payment of vouchers and the manner of maintenance of records of the children under the law.

The judge sought a compliance report within 30 days.

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2024

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