State Govt. Can Take Over Private Schools Which Were Decided To Be Closed By Management In the Public Interest [Read Judgment]

The Supreme Court, on Friday, upheld the Kerala Government's decision to take over three private aided schools under the Kerala Education Act, 1958.

The Court held that the State decision to run the Primary schools which were decided to be closed by their respective management was in public interest and in the interest of the education and the High Court has rightly refused to interfere with the decision of the State Government taking over the schools to run the same directly by the Government.

"The reason is that all the institutions, which have been taken over were the institutions providing primary education. Under Article 21(A) of the Constitution of India as well as under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, the State has to take all steps for fulfilling the objective to provide education to children up to 14 years of age seeking Primary (Upper Primary and Lower Primary) education.

The State decision to run the Primary schools which were decided to be closed by their respective management was in public interest and in the interest of the education. The High Court has rightly refused to interfere with the decision of the State Government taking over the schools to run the same directly by the Government," the Bench comprising Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan observed.

The Court was hearing three appeals filed by ex-managers of three private aided institutions challenging the judgment of Kerala High Court which had upheld State's notification taking over the schools.

The Appellants had now approached the Apex Court, contending that the State had taken over the schools when they had already closed down. They asserted that the power under the Act can be exercised only with regard to the schools in existence. They had further contended that the State could have taken over the schools only after resorting to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 and paying compensation to its managers.

The State, on the other hand, had defended its actions, submitting that the action of taking over of the schools was in furtherance of its obligation to provide primary education to students. It further informed the Court that the Act itself provides for payment of compensation, which had been duly determined. One of the schools had, in fact, accepted the compensation amount, it submitted.

At the outset, the Court observed that there exist three steps for exercise of such power under the Act. These are: (a) satisfaction of the Government that in the public interest it is necessary to take control of any category of institution; (b) resolution of the Legislative Assembly approving the proposal for taking over the schools; and (c) issuance of notification in the Gazette to take over with effect from any day specified therein any category of aided schools.

It then noted that the schools were in existence at the time of the issue of the notifications and that all the criteria for taking over the schools were fulfilled, thereby upholding the decision to take over the schools.

The Court also dismissed assertions of there being a conflict between the provisions of Kerala Education Act, 1958 and Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.

Placing reliance on the "pith and substance rule", it opined, "...we conclude that Act, 1958 and Act, 2013 operate in different fields and Section 15 of the Act, 1958 in no manner is overridden or repugnant to Act, 2013. There was no invalidity in the exercise of the power of the State Government under Section 15 to take over the schools. The owners being entitled to compensation at the market rate on the date of notification, the procedure for taking over the property is in full compliance of requirement of Article 300A of the Constitution of India."

Read the Judgment Here