Private unaided education institution amenable to Article 226: Calcutta High Court
The Calcutta High Court held on Tuesday that a private unaided education institution is subject to writ jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution, and that a school run by the Army Welfare Education Society falls within the scope of State under Article 12 of the Constitution (Bineeta Patnaik Padhi v. Union of India & Ors.). The school, even if unaided, fulfils a public responsibility imposed on it by the Right to Education (RTE) Act and West Bengal Right to Education (WBRTE) Rules, according to single-judge Justice Shekhar B Saraf. Such a public duty is imposed, in my judgement, by both Article 21A of the Indian Constitution and the RTE Act, which gives effect to the fundamental right to education. As a result, the Court determined that the Army Welfare Education Society's school falls within the definition of "state" under Article 12. However, the Court clarified that, even if an authority is deemed to be a State under Article 12 of the Constitution, constitutional courts must first satisfy themselves that the challenged authority's action is part of public law rather than private law before issuing any writ, particularly a mandamus. The ruling came after a plea of maintainability was raised in response to Bineeta Patnaik Padhi's petition challenging her dismissal from the post of Principal of Army Public School in Panagarh. The RTE Act's legislative goal, according to the Court, was to ensure that teachers were not left in the dark and that their concerns in school conflicts were adequately addressed. The Court determined that the specific grievance redress processes given under Sections 23 and 24 of the RTE Act, as well as Rule 17 of the WBRTE, did indeed control Padhi's contract of service, making this a suitable case for judicial review. The Court relied on the Supreme Court's ruling in Marwari Balika Vidyalaya v. Asha Srivastava [(2020) 14 SCC 449] in determining whether the school would be state-run. In that case, the Supreme Court was confronted with a situation in which an Assistant Teacher employed for profit in a private unaided educational institution was fired by stigmatic order without first obtaining the approval of relevant authorities or conducting a disciplinary investigation. In accordance with Article 141 of the Indian Constitution, the law laid down in Asha Srivastava now binds all High Courts to give effect to it. In Roychan Abraham, the Full Bench of the Allahabad High Court had also relied on Ramesh Ahluwalia to reach the conclusion that private institutions imparting education to students were discharging a public duty and thus were amenable to the Court's writ jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution, based on a reference made by a learned Single Judge," the order said.