The case of Unni Krishnan was pivotal with respect to the Right to Education as it challenged the question of the  “Right to life” under the purview of Article 21


The case of Unni Krishnan was pivotal with respect to the Right to Education as it challenged the question of the “Right to life” under the purview of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, which guarantees every citizen a right to education. The role of economic resources in limiting this right along with the nexus between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles enshrined in the Constitution. An analysis of the previous landmark judgment of Mohini Jain was brought up which laid the foundation stone of the Right to Education and whether the right to education is only limited to primary education or does it include adult professional education.

Basic Details

Name of Court: The Supreme Court of India

Appellant: Unni Krishnan

Respondent: State of Andhra Pradesh

Date of Judgment: 04/02/1993

Bench: Sharma, L.M. (CJ), Pandian, S.R. (J), Jeevan Reddy, B.P. (J), Mohan, S. (J), Barucha, S.P. (J)

Facts of the Case

The core of the case lies in the string of petitions filed by various private educational institutions to challenge state laws. These laws directed the regulation of the capitation fee charges in these particular states (Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh). Some institutions in these respective states have already challenged the same before the Hon’ble Supreme Court. It also paved the way to question the precedent set by the landmark judgment of Mohini Jain v. State of Karnataka[1]. In addition to this, the purview and the scope of Article 21 are also challenged with respect to the right to education.


  1. Whether a citizen has a fundamental right to education for medical, engineering, or other professional degrees?
  2. Whether the Constitution of India guarantees a fundamental right to education to its citizens?
  3. Whether there is a fundamental right to establish an educational institution under Article 19(1)(g)?
  4. Does recognition or affiliation make the educational institution an instrumentality?



The petitioners argued that it is the duty of the state to provide all its citizens with education irrespective of the social or economic background they are from. Strengthening their argument was the case of Mohini Jain which had already broadened the scope of the right to education. It was put forth by the Petitioners that the State does not exercise a monopoly with respect to education. The council was of the view that one has the right to establish an educational system that is self-financing and that it is the institute’s autonomy to collect money from the applicants. They based their arguments on the following grounds:

  1. The functioning of an educational institution shall be taken as an industry.
  2. The State is duty-bound to make sure that everyone is provided with education irrespective of their economic and social backgrounds.
  3. The state exercises no monopoly in providing education because it is in contravention of the provisions of Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution as providing education can also be considered as a business industry.
  4. The State has been instrumental in exercising excessing control over the market forces which has affected the demand, supply, and free play.
  5. The setting up of an educational institution can be equated to starting any business venture and it can be made for profit purposes.
  6. The institutions should be given the autonomy to collect fees and money from students and practices such as growth, expulsion, and diversification might differ from one institution to another.
  7. The institutions do not become instrumentalities of the state by affiliating or recognizing itself to the government.


In reply, the respondents filed an affidavit showing the efforts done from the side of the state with respect to implementing Article 45 of the Constitution. It was argued that the duty of the state to provide for free and compulsory education only limits itself to primary education for children aged 14 years or below. In addition to this, since the cost of higher education is reasonably more than that of primary educations, it is not possible for the state to extend this right to higher education. The accessibility of primary education has also been increased as the outreach to approach the school is easily done within commutable distance. They based their arguments on the following grounds:

  1. The only expense that is to be borne by the public is additional expenses such as books, stationery, uniforms, and bags as the tuition fee is taken care of by the state.
  2. This legislation of making primary education free and compulsory has already been enacted by 14 States and Union territories.
  3. It was also argued that it would not be financially viable for the state to provide education in the field of medicine. A total of
    of the total financial share is already allocated to the health sector out of which a considerable amount is further distributed to medical education.
  4. Since early times, the task of imparting education has always been religious and of benevolence instead of an occupation.
  5. Taking money to give education is in contravention of public policy as providing education is the function of the state, hence, it must be subject to the rules and regulations of the state.



  • The fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution in Part III can be segregated into two major divisions, a) injunction restraining the government from denying some fundamental rights such as Articles 21 and 12, b) enforcing such rights positively such as Articles 19, 25, and 26.
  • In this way, Article 21 acts as a negative right, thus shielding people against deprivation of life and personal liberty
  • The scope of Article 21 is very wide and it includes the residual rights of a person.
  • Part III and Part IV are not contained in different watertight compartments and should be read complementary thus inclusion of a Directive Principle into Fundamental Rights can happen.
  • Due to the wide ambit of Article 21, it is undisputedly considered the heart of fundamental rights, and it’s not wrong if it is read along with the Constitution.
  • One can only approach the court of law if he is denied his fundamental rights until that denial is supported by fair and just legislation.
  • Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles should be construed harmoniously as they form the social conscience of the Constitution.

CJ Sharma held that,

“The petitioners have asked for running the educational institutions dependant on recognition by the State. There is absolutely no fundamental right in recognition to any citizen and such recognition arises only on the State’s permission based on a policy decision or fulfilment of the conditions of the Statute. And such dependency on State will not qualify it as a fundamental right. Moreover, anyone who is desirous of forming the institution must subject himself to §§ 22 and 23 of the University Grants Commission which prohibits the award of degrees except by a University.”

Findings of the Court

  1. Every citizen of this country enjoys the right to education as a fundamental right. However, this right is not an absolute right. It has to be construed with the conditions laid down in Articles 41 and 45. In simpler terms, every person has a right to free and compulsory education until he attains the age of 14 years. Thereafter, this right is subject to reasonable restrictions.
  2. The private educational institutions that are neither funded or aided by the state are in no compulsion to not charge a higher fee, provided that it should not exceed the ceiling amount.
  3. A citizen of this country may have a right to establish an educational institution but no citizen, person, or institution has a right much less a fundamental right, to affiliation or recognition or to grant-in-aid from the State. The recognition and/or affiliation shall be given by the State subject only to the conditions set out in, and only in accordance with the scheme continued in Part-Ill of this Judgment. No Government/University or authority shall be competent to grant recognition or affiliation except in accordance with the said scheme. The said scheme shall constitute a condition of such recognition or affiliation, as the case may be, in addition to such other conditions and terms which such Government, University, or other authority may choose to impose. Those receiving aid shall, however, be subject to all such terms and conditions, as the aid-giving authority may impose in the interest of the general public.


It can be construed that Article 21 is wide in scope and includes the right to education. It is to be further noted that importance has to be given to understanding the economic position of private institutions. The Bench conclusively gave a judgment by the comparative analysis of various judgments rendered by High Courts of different states concerning the same issue. It also directed to issue directions and guidelines in accordance with the National Education Policy and governmental schemes related to education. Most importantly, due importance is given to the practical application of the judgement by distinguishing the issue of the right to education and that of the right to establish an educational institution.


  1. Mohini Jain v. State of Karnataka, [1992] 3 SCR 658.
  2. Oliver Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (U.S. Supreme Court Reports 98 Law. Ed. U.S. 347.)
  3. Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 579.
  4. Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, AIR 1986 SC 180.
  5. State of Andhra Pradesh v. Levu Narendranath, [1971] 3 SCR 699.
  6. Ajay Hasia v. Khalid Mujib Sehravardi, (1981) ILLJ 103 SC.
  7. Tekraj Vasandi v. Union of India, (1988) ILLJ 341 SC.

[1] 1992 3 SCC 666

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Updated On 29 May 2024 5:37 AM GMT
Antariksh Anant

Antariksh Anant

Antariksh is an avid researcher. Institution: RGNUL - Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law Patiala, Punjab, India.

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