The landmark bill for providing free and compulsory education to children aged 6-14 years was tagged with a warning of 'disastrous consequences' if it was not passed. On Monday, however, the Rajya Sabha gave the measure its unanimous approval, but only 56 members were present at the time of voting. Kapil Sibal, Human Resource Development Minister explained that the bill was form of a great opportunity that we need to grasp otherwise the consequences of missing it can be disastrous, while winding up the five-hour debate on The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill.
The debate on the bill threw up the unlikely scenario in which it attracted support from across spectrum but with member after member, even from the treasury benches, finding what they termed glaring lacunae in the measure but knowing fully well that their suggestions would not be considered by the government but would only be a matter of record. The bill had been introduced in December 2008 by Sibal's predecessor Arjun Singh, who was dropped after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recast the government after the United Progressive Alliance's resounding victory in the April-May general elections. The bill, which now goes to the Lok Sabha for consideration and approval before it is sent to the president for assent, will go down in parliamentary history for more reasons than one. Apart from the railway and general budgets for fiscal 2009-10, the bill is the first legislation to be passed, and that too unanimously in the UPA's second coming. This apart, this is the first time since December 2008 that the treasury and opposition benches have been united. The last time around, they had come together to pass a bill to create a National Investigation Agency (NIA) and a bill to amend the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.