Page last updated at 05:52 GMT, Friday, 31 July 2009 06:52 UK

India free education bill tabled

A village school in India: From 2006 BBC television series
A quarter of private school places will be reserved for poor children

The Indian government is expected to introduce a landmark education bill in parliament after it was delayed due to procedural difficulties.

The bill seeks to guarantee universal, free and compulsory education for children aged between six and 14.

It was originally set to be discussed by lawmakers on Thursday.

The government estimates that at present 70 million children do not go to school and more than a third of the country is illiterate.

The bill has been listed for discussion in parliament's schedule later on Friday.

It would set up new state-run local schools and force private schools to reserve at least a quarter of their places for poor children.

It will also end widespread practices by which schools impose admission fees on parents to guarantee their children a place and bureaucrats enjoy discretionary powers on deciding who to let in.

Correspondents say the government is keen to introduce the legislation into the lower house of parliament quickly, as the current parliamentary session ends next week.

Achieving universal education is one of the UN's Millennium Development Goals to be met by the year 2015.

The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says it is not clear to many critics how the government plans to pay for this.

At the moment India spends a little over 3% of its GDP on education.

Critics of the bill also say it does not cover children below the age of six and therefore fails to recognise the importance of the early years of a child's development.

They say it also does little to address India's inequitable school system under which there are vast discrepancies between well-funded private schools and state-run schools with poor quality teaching staff and infrastructure.

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