Can a private school claim additional fee as “electricity charges” for running air conditioners during school hours as part of tution fee? No, said the Delhi High Court on Monday. Two private schools, including St Marks Senior Secondary Public School, had moved the court seeking directions to set aside the order of the Directorate of Education (DE) dated June 16, 2016. The DE had quashed the “illegal” decision of the schools to increase tuition fee by 15 per cent in the academic session 2015-16 for installing air-conditioning plants.
The DE had directed the schools to refund the collected fee. It also said no development fee could be charged from the parents under the category of depreciation unless the amount was deposited in a separate account in a nationalised bank.
Counsel for the schools said because of “extreme climate” and “high levels of pollution”, AC plants had to be installed. To meet the maintenance costs, 15 per cent additional fee was charged. Instead of an illegality, the fee, categorised under tuition fee, was merely an irregularity. If profiteering was not the motive, rules did not prohibit increase of annual charges/ tuition fee. The schools were in deficit despite charging the additional amount, he said, adding that rules mandated schools to maintain a single account – “Recognised Unaided School Fund”.
The DE, however, said the schools had imposed a total increase of 25 per cent in tuition fee, comprising an annual increase of 10 per cent, besides another 15 per cent for the AC plants. This would have resulted in a “cascading increase” in other charges, the DE had said.
“The expenses for development/expansion could not be through inordinate increase in fees,” the DE had said adding, collections for ‘Depreciation Reserve Fund’ were not being deposited in a ‘Development Fund Account’ as per rules.
Dismissing the school’s appeal, Justice V Kameswar Rao said capital expenditure, like for setting up an air conditioning (AC) system, has to come from the savings made from the tuition.
The court also said that even if electricity bills are a revenue expense, they cannot be met by increasing the tuition fees. As the schools had already increased the annual charges, an additional charge for electricity could not be claimed, the court said.
The schools could also levy development fee only if it maintained a depreciation reserve fund in a separate account, it said.