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A welfare state is a concept that started in the 19th century. For a long time, there was no consensus on what the welfare state is and whether its existence is real or not. The welfare state concept was taken initially to describe the Weimer government because of its efficiency. Later on, it began to develop as a concept in the world for setting up governments that have more involvement in the overall development of the people. The main principles of a welfare government are equality of opportunity, equal distribution of economic resources and wealth, and providing every person an opportunity of living a life with minimum standards for living a life with human dignity (Sukhdev, 2017). A welfare government provides healthcare, housing, education, give equal access to technology, and so on. India is one such country where the welfare state model is quite dominant since the beginning of the independent nation. Was the cancelation of CBSE exams the only way to deal with the issue of exams or were their other options available before the government? In case, the government had to call off the exams due to lack of management or infrastructure, what does that tell us about the development our government has achieved in the seventy years of independence.
The fact that the makers of the constitution were serious about their commitment towards the welfare of all is evident from Part IV of the Indian Constitution which provides for the Directive Principles of State Policy (Art 38- 51). The Directive Principles of State Policy are in form of directions to the government of India to fulfill certain socio-economic goals. Although the same is not enforceable in the court of law, their importance has been deliberated upon by the courts in many landmark cases like the case of Minerva Mills vs Union of India and Unnikrishnan v State of Andhra Pradesh. Some of them have also been read into the fundamental rights by way of judicial interpretation to make them enforceable by the courts (Legal Service India, n.d.). This has resulted in a lot of growth in the jurisprudence on the rights of the citizens and the duties of the government. The Unnikrishnan judgment paved way for the insertion of Art 21 A in the Indian Constitution through the Eighty-Sixth Amendment Act, 2002. Art 21-A is a step taken to fulfill the directive principle under Art 45 and Art 39 (f) of the Constitution.
The right to education thereafter changed in terms of its scope and objective. To realise the objective of the right to education, many schemes were made by the government of India a the primary, secondary, and the higher education level like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Mid Day Meal, Mahila Samakhya, Strengthening for providing quality education in Madrassas (SPQEM), National Scheme of Incentives to Girls for Secondary Education, National Merit-cum-Means Scholarship Scheme, National Scholarships, Scholarship Schemes for ST Students by Ministry of Tribal Affairs (Vikaspedia, 2021). The recent announcement on the CBSE exams being canceled brought to light many things that are problematic in our system. to start with, our claim of having a welfare state was shaken.
The covid- 19 pandemic adversely affected many aspects of our society, health, travel, tourism, business, and education. The nature of the pandemic is such that we had nothing at our disposal to help us trickle down the effect of the pandemic (TUAC Secretariat Briefing, 2020). With all social contact shut down, education was one sector that was negatively affected but at the same time, it was one of the very few sectors that were able to function even if remotely. From the onset of the covid- 19 pandemic itself, it was presumed that the education system may get adversely affected, exams may get delayed or canceled, semesters may extend, and so on. The divide between the developed and developing countries, the urban and the rural regions has come crashing on the society (Digital Learning Network, 2017). Whence, the students from the developed countries are better equipped with Information and Communication Technology, the students from developing nations especially those from rural areas find it difficult to continue with their studies. The case with India is no different. Despite many schemes and steps taken for upgrading the education system and make it more ICT oriented, only 8.5 % of the students in India are found to have access to the internet as per the report of the United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
With such low levels of internet access, the objective of Art 21 -A falls short of its commitment. The students from urban areas have access to the internet and can study through email, google meet classes, and social media but the same opportunities are not available to the rural areas. Even if access to mobile phones and the internet is there, the students, as well as teachers, may not have the know-how of how to use the services. The infrastructure gap is not a new thing. It has been there before covid- 19 also. So, technically there was never a level playing ground for the students from urban and rural areas or students from the lower class or upper class (Sagar, 2021). So, what extra circumstances forced the government to take the step of cancellation of the twelfth board exams is a question that becomes pertinent to ask. As per research conducted by the Azim Premji University, 82 percent of the students have forgotten what they had studied through the online classes due to a lack of interaction between the student and the teacher. This indicates that even the students who have access to online classes do not get to realise the fruits of education completely. Thus, there isn’t much of a difference here in the students who have access to the classes through ICT or not.
Coming to the reaction of the teacher associations on the matter of cancellation of boards, it can be said that the teacher community is divided. Some of the teachers have welcomed the decision saying that it will bring a positive and long-awaited change in the education system especially the approach that the Indian society has towards the 10th and 12th board class exams. The teachers believe that the assessment should be a year-round assessment instead of a short-term assessment of the student’s abilities (Pai, 2021). Also, the teachers said that education must be a more enjoyable process instead of a stressful experience which is what the board exams in their current state are.
The other opinion that the teachers hold is that changing the format of assessment all of a sudden can hurt the students’ academic future. The teachers think that the board exams are not only about memorising and replicating the facts but it is a process of preparing the students to deal with pressure, time management, and access the approach students take to the exams (Mekonnen & Muyule, 2020). This decision puts the students who wanted to improve their academic performance at a disadvantage. Moreover, the students whose previous years scores are not good also become disadvantageous. Considering that most of the colleges, NIIT’s and other entrance exams used to consider the 12th board exam scores for their admissions, cancellation of exams creates blocks and breakages in the admission system.
Apart from the practical questions raised above, the arguments on the cancellation of CBSE board arguments are divided into two main thoughts legally. These arguments have arisen due to the conflict between the right to life and the right to equality. Even within the right to life, there is a clash between the right to health (Art 21) and the right to education (Art 21A). the right to life is the most fundamental one. The one of survival, the primal one. The other rights the right to equality and the right to education (being properly accessed) are derivative of the right to life (Khurana, 2021). These rights are derivatives but also an important part of the right to life. That is what was realised by the courts and that is why these rights were read into the right to life. The Unnikrishnan judgment read the right to education into the right to life and the right to equality was held to be a part of the golden triangle. i.e. Art 21, Art 14, and Art 19. Under such a legal situation, how does the government ascertain which right should prevail and which shouldn’t?
A necessary answer to the question is that maybe this decision was not that much about balancing rights for the welfare of the people, rather it was about the lack of infrastructure to help the students realise their rights. After all, there was no consultation with the parents, teachers, or even the students themselves on what they actually wanted for their future. So, the problem shifts from a legal anomaly to one of a practical problem i.e., infrastructural issue (Etzioni, 2019). Enhancing the infrastructure in such a short period is impossible. In that case, the government has failed to be a welfare government and must take appropriate steps to fill the gap between the legal rights and the mechanisms that bring the legal rights to life.
Another practical issue that arises from this situation is that of the decisions to be taken by the state boards. The exams were canceled by the CBSE but a few state boards like the UP board did take the exams. In such a case, a genuine problem is posed before the colleges, that in case a student who has taken exams seeks admission and if a student from CBSE board 12th comes for admissions, which criteria would be adopted for each student (Kumar, 2020). This question becomes even more important due to the 12th class being a breakthrough in one’s choice of career. The NEP 2020 may be a way forward. A national-level exam conducted by the universities and colleges may act as a means of proving an equal opportunity to the students.
The whole object of Art 14 is to ensure that the state does not make an arbitrary distinction between the citizens and amongst non- citizens. It does not mean that everyone would be treated equally. Only those classes of people who are in a similarly placed position are required to be treated in the same manner. That also includes treating people forming a different class differently (Icelandic Human Rights Center, n.d.). In this scenario, the decision of cancellation needs to be tested at the anvil of Art 14 to ascertain whether all the requirements of Art 14 were fulfilled. Many judgments given by the SC of India have laid down tests to test a legislative action or an administrative action against Art 14. In the case of Sri Srinivas Theatre v. Government of Tamil Nadu, it was held that equality before the law and equal protection of law may appear to be the same but they are different in as much as equal protection of law incudes in its ambit many things.
Many tests have been evolved by the courts to facilitate the objective of Art 14. One of the most important tests is the test of ‘reasonable classification.’ In the case of the Re Special Courts Bill, the court held that although the test of reasonable classification is important, one should not let the test overpower the Doctrine itself (Sharma, 2021). The test of reasonable classification states that an action to be valid under Art 14 must be –
- There must be a reasonable classification.
- Their classification must follow some intelligible differentia for some objective sought to be achieved.
- There must be a nexus between the classification and the object sought to be achieved.
The government’s decision to cancel exams does not make a reasonable classification in as much as it does not take into account the students from other boards. After all, what about the students who have given state board exams, and what about the state boards who want to go ahead with exams? This has created a dichotomy in the education system on how will the two sets of students who appeared for the exams and who did not appear for the exams be selected for admissions into the colleges. The next important test under Art 14 is the ‘test of arbitrariness’. The test of arbitrariness was given in the case of Ajay Hasia v. Khalid Mujib Sehravardi (1981) 1 SCC 722. In this case, it was said that arbitrariness is the antithesis to equality. Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India reiterated the importance of reasonableness in the application of Art 14.
Arbitrariness was described as being any action taken without caution or at pleasure in the case of Sharma Transport v. Government of A.P. Any action that operates on will rather than proper reason or judgment is an arbitrary action according to this case’s judgment. Testing the cancellation of exams on this anvil we can see that not much thought has been given to all the consequences that arise from the cancellation of the exam. The government did not consider the aspect of admissions to the colleges and the dichotomy that would be created by not taking decisions unanimously along with the state boards (CEPR, n.d.). Moreover, the process of ascertaining the performance on an internal assessment basis is arbitrary.
If the colleges or universities take their own exams then the reasonable classification criteria would be defeated as there is no particularly special reason for not taking the 12th board exams while going ahead with the college entrance exams. It is unreasonable in as much as the circumstances for taking both the exams are not very different from each other. Had there been a proper, organised discussion with the different stakeholders including the students, teachers (Paterson & Veriava, 2020). College administration etc. the decision was taken in consonance without the same would have been reasonable and in tune with Art 14. This decision is not the result of any discussions between the stakeholders but a decision taken at the whims and caprices of the administration, thus from the above analysis, it follows that this decision violates both the doctrines, i.e., the doctrine of reasonable classification as well as the doctrine of arbitrariness.
Now, it is clear that the government did not go precisely by the doctrines but what is also apparent here is that the covid-19 pandemic created circumstances that are beyond the normal legal, economic and social structure (Human Rights Watch, 2020). Thus, the circumstances created by the pandemic were extra-ordinary and the solution thereof also could surpass certain administrative requirements This however is negated by the fact that the government had a whole year to take appropriate steps concerning education and other day-to-day areas of life. In ascertaining the efficiency of the Indian government, it becomes imperative to analyze the steps taken by the governments of other countries to maintain the right to education and efficiency in education.
Also, a look needs to be given to the various International covenants and the harmonising of various human rights which include the right to education, right to health, and right to life. This essay will be incomplete without analysing the steps taken by other countries by to combat the problem of education in these times. Many countries like Italy. Japan and the Czech Republic started by changing the education policy at the start of 2020 (MEXT, 2020). This involved taking a myriad of steps like changing the curriculum for the year, shifting some topics from the curriculum to the next year, setting time- tables in a manner that allows some interaction between the students and the teachers. These countries have held surveys on the issue of final year entrance exams and discussed the outcome of the surveys with the higher officials.
Such an understanding and discourse were found missing in Indian Some of these countries like Japan and Italy also ensured to provide hi-tech, low- tech and no-tech study material to the students. The same is not possible in India as far as providing access to technology is concerned but some assistance in study material should have been provided. In India, Punjab was one of the states that were the quickest to provide study material to students scenario (Prakash, 2020). Thus, it is evident that there were alternative options available before the Indian government. Thus, it can be concluded from the above analysis that although a decision had to be taken by the government to deal with the peculiar situations brought about by the covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic required to take a route different from the usual. However, the same needs to be done in such a manner that no right gets compromised. the right to life is important but so is the right to education as it impacts the opportunities that a student will get in his lifetime, more so in the case of final year and higher education which determine the course of a student’s career.
A balance ought to have been maintained by the Indian government between the right to life and the right to education by consulting the students and teachers association for the best course possible. The lack of same has given a short-term relief to the students but it has put the future of students in peril and an imbalance and dichotomy have been created due to the same. The lack of a proper education policy for the year till the covid situation got out of hand despite the government having a whole year for making the decision only goes to show that the Indian government has a long way to go before it lives up to the objectives of the welfare government and in realising the objectives set in the DPSP’s and fundamental rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution. An approach in line with the approach taken by the foreign countries would have proven more practical and efficient.
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Ajay Hasia v. Khalid Mujib Sehravardi (1981) 1 SCC 722.
Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India AIR 1978 SC 597.
Minerva Mills vs Union of India AIR 1980.
Sharma Transport v. Government of A.P. (2002) 2 SCC 188.
Sri Srinivas Theatre v. Government of Tamil Nadu 1992 AIR 999.
Unnikrishnan v State of Andhra Pradesh 1993 AIR 217.
Eighty-Sixth Amendment Act to the Constitution, 2002.
The Constitution of India, Part IV
The Indian Constitution, Art 21A.
The Indian Constitution, Art 45, and Art 39 (f).
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Sukhdev, R. (2017). ‘Changing contours of concept of welfare state in India – an insight into nordic model’. Online Journal of Multidisciplinary subjects, 11 (3).
Author: DIVYANG GUPTA, AMITY UNIVERSITY, NOIDA
Editor: Kanishka Vaish, Senior Editor, LexLife India.