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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Delhi challenges verdict allowing schools to collect 85% annual fee

The DOE in its appeal against the May 31 judgment said every household has faced some kind of medical emergency during the pandemic and a common man is diverting the "hard earned money" towards the medical treatment.

Written by Sofi Ahsan | New Delhi |
Updated: June 4, 2021 12:43:58 pm
Schools were first shut in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic (File Photo)

Delhi’s Directorate of Education (DOE) on Friday approached the Delhi High Court against a judgment passed on Monday by a single bench which ruled the DoE has no power to indefinitely postpone the collection of annual charges and development fees by private schools. The single bench also permitted the schools to collect annual fees from their students with a deduction of 15 per cent on the total fee in lieu of unutilised facilities by students during the pandemic-induced lockdown.

The DOE in the appeal against the May 31 judgment said that every household has faced some kind of medical emergency during the pandemic, and a common man is diverting “hard earned money” towards medical treatment. The additional financial pressure is uncalled for, it argued.

“Schools are conducting online classes with drastically reduced overheads like electricity, transportation, infrastructure maintenance etc. How would a common man with his income at all time low or no income in few cases, survive this onslaught of additional financial burden where he is already struggling to make ends meet with kinds of medical expenses like hospitalisation, doctor’s fees, life saving drugs and medicines and life saving equipment like oxygen cylinders, concentrators, etc,” it said in the appeal.

On April 18 last year, the DOE permitted private schools to collect only tuition fees during the lockdown period, and said the annual and development charges can be charged from parents but only on a monthly basis after the completion of the lockdown period. On August 28, the government reiterated the April 18 order and clarified that no amount other than the tuition fee can be collected from students.

Justice Jayant Nath, in the ruling on Monday, said the amount payable by students concerned will be paid in six monthly installments from June 10, while quashing the orders passed by the government on April 18 and August 28 last year with regard to collection of annual fee and development charges.

The Action Committee Unaided Recognised Private Schools, which represents 450 private unaided schools in the national capital, had earlier approached the court and argued that the orders curtail the rights of the educational institutions to fix their own fees, and the education department is being influenced by the dictates of the political establishment which aims to please the vote bank of parents.

The DOE in appeal said the orders were issued on humanitarian grounds and to strike a balance between schools, education of children and parents. The schools are getting sufficient funds to maintain their necessary and required establishment expenses in spite of the deferment of charging Annual charges and Development fees, it argued.

The single-judge bench in the ruling said the DoE does have the power to exercise control for the purposes of prevention of commercialisation of education, but other than that, schools have complete autonomy in the matter of fixation of their fees.

“The power of the respondent DOE is for prevention of commercialisation of education. Clearly in the absence of a finding of commercialisation of education or exploitation, the respondent cannot indefinitely cut down the established fees or restrain a said school from collecting a portion of the existing fees,” it said on May 31.

Justice Nath also said a bare perusal of the heads of expenses related to the charges “clearly demonstrates and shows” that most of the expenses are not correlated or connected with the actual physical opening of the schools for the students.

“Expenses like rents, taxes, travelling, conveyance, insurance charges, remuneration of auditors, repair and maintenance of building and maintenance of equipment, furniture and fixture are all expenses which will continue to be incurred by the schools irrespective of the physical shut down. In case the said repairs and expenses are not done, it is bound to cause damage to the building, infrastructure and functioning of the schools,” added the court.

The court also said that it cannot be said the school building is completely shut and noted that the building would remain functional for administrative reasons and even for conducting online classes. However, it accepted that expenses under heads like electricity, water and stationery will drop in the absence of actual full physical opening of the schools.

“There is no finding recorded by the impugned orders that the collection of annual charges and development fees tantamounts to profiteering or collection of capitation fees by private unaided recognised schools,” said the bench.

The court further said the private schools are dependent only on the fees to cover their salary, establishment and other expenditures. “Any regulations or order which seek to restrict or indefinitely postpone their powers to collect normal and usual fees as is sought to be done by the impugned orders is bound to create grave financial prejudice and harm to the schools,” it said in the judgment.

While disposing of the case, the court said the Supreme Court judgment in the case of Indian School, Jodhpur & Anr. vs. State of Rajasthan & Ors would apply to the schools of Delhi as well. The apex court verdict bars schools from stopping any student from attending the classes on account of non-payment of fees.

However, the DoE in appeal has argued that Rajasthan’s law on school fee cannot be applied to Delhi which has its own law and rules “which enables the DOE to take any decision apropos to the given circumstances and to prevent the dropout from school”.

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