28 Aug 2016

Moral Science as a mandatory subject: Supreme Court declines to direct

Recently a case came up before the Supreme Court. It was filed by a lady-lawyer requesting the Court to direct one and all to ensure that 'moral science' was made a mandatory subject in class-room education upto class XII. In the petition it was stated that "she is deeply distressed with the rapidly degrading moral values in the society touching every aspect of life where making money, anyhow has become the sole motto of society” and in her view "the present education system does not inculcate the true purpose of education, which is to produce a good human being". The lady-lawyer further submitted before the Supreme Court that the State is under "a constitutional obligation to endeavour to provide educational facilities which inculcate moral values in the course of primary and secondary education". She also stressed upon Article 25 and 51A(f) of the Constitution of India to submit before the Supreme Court that it should pass an order "for the inclusion of moral science as a compulsory subject in the syllabus of school education from classes I to XII in order to inculcate moral values and nurture national character in the national interest". The Supreme Court, however, refused.

In its order reported as Mrs. Santosh Singh v. Union of India [Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1028/2014] the Supreme Court took note of these and other submissions and also the response of CBSE and NCERT to opine that sufficient steps were being taken by the concerned authorities and in any case the subject brought before it was beyond judicial review. 

Some of the pertinent observations made by the Supreme Court while rejecting the petition as are under;
14 There can be no gain-saying the fact that moral values are an integral component of value based education. The purpose of education is to engender in the young, a spirit of enquiry, a desire for knowledge and a sense of values. Among those values are the fundamental values on which our constitutional core is founded: liberty, equality and the dignity of each individual. The purpose of education also includes the creation of responsible and informed citizens conscious both of their rights and of their duties to others.
15 Education is an important instrument towards the development of the individual as indeed, it is a vital instrument in nation building. Technology has effaced conventional barriers and the world has become a globally networked community of information ideas. The challenges which confront the system of education have evolved rapidly, perhaps too rapidly for our educational system to develop pragmatic solutions to meet them.
16 The issue before the Court is whether a mandamus of this nature can be issued by the Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction in the public interest.
17 While there can be no dispute about the need of providing value based education, what form this should take and the manner in which values should be inculcated ought not to be ordained by the court. The court singularly lacks the expertise to do so. The petitioner has a grouse about what she describes as the pervading culture of materialism in our society. The jurisdiction of this Court under Article 32 is not a panacea for all ills but a remedy for the violation of fundamental rights. The remedies for such perceived grievances as the petitioner has about the dominant presence of materialism must lie elsewhere and it is for those who have the competence and the constitutional duty to lay down and implement educational policies to deal with such problems.
18 There is a tendency on the part of public interest petitioners to assume that every good thing which society should aspire to achieve can be achieved through the instrumentality of the court. The judicial process provides remedies for constitutional or legal infractions. Public interest litigation allows a relaxation of the strict rules of locus standi. However, the court must necessarily abide the parameters which govern a nuanced exercise of judicial power. Hence, where an effort is made to bring issues of governance before the court, the basic touch stone on which the invocation of jurisdiction must rest is whether the issue can be addressed within the framework of law or the Constitution. Matters of policy are entrusted to the executive arm of the State. The court is concerned with the preservation of the rule of law.
19 This petition is illustrative of matters which lie beyond the province of judicial review. Whether children pursuing their education from classes I to XII should be saddled with a separate course of moral science is not for the court to decide. Whether a value based educational system would best be subserved by including a separate subject on moral science or whether value based teaching should traverse the entire gamut of a prescribed curriculum is a matter which cannot be resolved by applying settled norms of judicial review. These are matters which cannot be determined in the exercise of the jurisdiction of the court under Article 32
20 The argument on morality seems attractive to those - like the well meaning petitioner -who lament the decadence of civilisation. Combine morality with the need to redefine the values which a society wishes for its young and you have a seemingly persuasive argument in support. The difficulty in a court mandated acceptance of this argument is precisely its inability to unravel the complexities in the position and the answers which it proposes.
21 Morality is one and, however important it may sound to some, it still is only one element in the composition of values that a just society must pursue. There are other equally significant values which a democratic society may wish for education to impart to its young. Among those is the acceptance of a plurality and diversity of ideas, images and faiths which unfortunately faces global threats. Then again, equally important is the need to foster tolerance of those who hold radically differing views, empathy for those whom the economic and social milieu has cast away to the margins, a sense of compassion and a realisation of the innate humanity which dwells in each human being. Value based education must enable our young to be aware of the horrible consequences of prejudice, hate and discrimination that continue to threaten people and societies the world over. Morality as a defining concept of spreading values may run the risk of being dangerously one sided, exposing young citizens to the same dogma which those who decry the creed of materialism seek to change. Moreover, morality itself is a notion which has varying hues.
22 It is unrealistic for the court to assume that it can provide solutions to vexed issues which involve drawing balances between conflicting dimensions that travel beyond the legal plane. Courts are concerned with issues of constitutionality and legality. It is difficult to perceive how matters to which solutions may traverse the fields of ideology, social theory, policy making and experimentation can be regulated by this court such as by issuing a mandamus to enforce a scheme of instruction in a particular subject in school education. Should a subject be taught at all? Should a set of values or a line of enquiry and knowledge be incorporated as a separate subject of discourse in an educational system? Would a horizontal integration of a given set of values across existing subjects better achieve a desirable result? Is it at all desirable to impose another subject of study upon the already burdened school curriculum? 
23 These are vexed issues to which more than one solution may appear just. That is exactly the reason why a resolution of such matters must rest with those who have the responsibility to teach and govern over matters of education. Every good that is perceived to be in the interest of society cannot be mandated by the court. Nor is the judicial process an answer to every social ill which a public interest petitioner perceives. A matter such as the present to which a solution does not rest in a legal or constitutional framework is incapable of being dealt with in terms of judicially manageable standards.

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