Tuck shops return to schools

After a tussle of about a year, the ‘good’ old tuck shops return to schools affiliated to the central board of secondary education (CBSE, 18500 schools) following a Delhi High Court order of February 21 that effectively quashed the CBSE circular of April 19, 2017, which had barred these shops inside school campuses. The said circular had advised schools to shut these tuck shops as this amounted to what it considered ‘non-permissible’ commercial activity within the schools and therefore violated affiliation bye-laws of the board. CBSE was also supported by Directorate of Education of the government of Delhi as commercial activities are prohibited under the provisions of DSEAR (Delhi School Education Act Rules) as well as the RTE Act and Rules.

In a series of actions that followed this circular and culminated into a court battle principally between Association of School Vendors (AOSV) and CBSE, the matter reached gradually to its February 21 conclusion. Soon after the CBSE first issued the circular on April 19 last year, AOSV filed a petition in Delhi HC but the  court directed them to petition before CBSE instead. CBSE dismissed the association’s petition saying it had no locus standi in the matter.

Earlier, also in the month of April, CBSE advised its schools on the usage of NCERT Books. “Since NCERT textual materials are the base for preparing test items in the Board Examination and the Question Paper of the CBSE is set in accordance to the prescribed syllabus of the subject. NCERT books are reasonably priced, scientifically designed and are in conformity with National Curriculum Framework 2005. They also keep in view the integrated nature of learning from Class I onwards… CBSE recommends the textbooks published by NCERT for classes IX-XII for all the major subjects,” the letter said adding that for Classes I-VIII, as per Rule 15-1(d) of the Affiliation Bye-Law “The schools will follow the textbooks published by NCERT for the Middle Classes as far as practicable”.  Thereafter through a letter on 09.08.2017 it advised the schools to register and place their demand for NCERT books required for academic year 2018-19 online.

Having effectively ordered closure of tuck shops in schools and also after having felt the need of having tuck shops back for dispensing NCERT books and also stationery items within the school, CBSE partially modified its April 19 circular and permitted tuck shops to in schools to sell NCERT books and stationery items vide a modified circular dated 24-25 August, 2017. In a follow up circular on December 18, 2017, CBSE prohibited sale of non-NCERT books from these tuck shops.

Meanwhile a Writ Petition No.7414/2017 filed by the Petitioners/Association of School Vendors was allowed by the Delhi HC after sale of NCERT books was allowed by CBSE and a parent body also approached court against renewed tuck shops.  The court upheld the right of traders to business and also sale of non-NCERT books from tuck shops with the condition that there won’t be any coercion for students or parents to buy from them.

Association of School Books Publishers (ASBP) has welcomed the court decision and described it an unambiguous judgment. “We’re very happy about the judgment and court has now legally allowed to open tuck shops inside the school premise, which is indeed a good news to more than 6500 book sellers in the country as also for the student/ parent community, “ says Navin Joshi, secretary ASBP and director of Viva Education, Delhi.

Schools are reacting cautiously to the judgment given the perception that school managements forge unholy nexus with private publishers and overprescribe textbooks to fleece parents and make money by way of clandestine understanding with the people/publishers running tuck shops for a school. According to Rajesh Hassija, director of Indraprastha International School Dwarka (Delhi), who is also the vice-chairman of NPSC ( National Progressive School Conference ) a network of elite private schools affiliated to CBSE, as far as choice available to a teacher or student is concerned, the order is very much welcome. “Talking for myself, I would say that NCERT books are good for introduction of concepts and study but given the nature of competition in entrance examination, both students and teachers are looking for additional resources of study to go up the level. Also, some students may finish studying from NCERT books by the midsession itself, so books of higher order learning if available to them through these tuck shops is good,” he adds.

Parallelly (though independent) to this development, NCERT, the apex school curriculum setting body in the country,  which publishes about five crore textbooks a year, has to discard books worth Rs 25-30 Crore as reportedly last year one crore of its printed books remained unsold. It may be mentioned that a large number of NCERT textbooks became obsolete following recommendations of the 21 expert committees that were set up in 2014 almost 10 years after National Curriculum Framework 2005 and feedback from teachers about 1300 factual errors was found correct. According to sources, the revision of NCERT books has taken place just to the extent of correcting these factual errors and not because of a full review. And, going by the word of union HRD minister, Prakash Javadekar, by 2019, the syllabus of class I-XII will be halved, which indicates that revision of these books is in progress.

Therefore, the latest High Court judgment, has again brought NCERT versus other books into focus and made their coexistence acceptable. It is now the responsibility of book sellers and publishers along with schools to run tuck shops as community service outlets rather than profit centres as the same books and stationery items are made available at various discounted prices outside the schools. The practice of selling at MRP as a thumb rule has to change to fair pricing and discounts wherever permissible if vendors want to win over student and parent community.