The Punjab and Haryana High Court has approved a cap of up to 8 per cent fee hike in private schools of Chandigarh, according to the Punjab Regulation of Fee of Unaided Educational Institution Bill, 2016, with some modifications.
What happens next?
In its order, the High Court has stated that the draft of the Punjab Regulation of Fee of Unaided Educational Institution Bill, 2016, has been sent for publication at the government press for issuing the notification. Education Secretary B L Sharma said the rules will be in effect on the date the notification is published, which may happen in a week or so. For any act, the implementation starts from the day of publication of the notification. In this case, the UT education department will circulate an advisory on the rules to be implemented at all the private schools once the notification is out. The next hearing is on April 19 where HC will listen to the status report on the matter.
Will the rules be implemented at private schools from the 2018-19 session?
With the new session about to begin in the first week of April, the fee hike rules will not apply to private schools this session as parents have already paid the fees. Sharma said any transaction made before the notification will not be covered by the new rules. “It is a breather for private schools this session as they have vehemently opposed the implementation of the Punjab rules. But, they will have to comply from the session 2019-20,” he added. In February, when the proposal was in its final stage of approval with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the education department planned to extend the February 12 deadline for fee submission in schools. However, this did not materialise due to a delay in approval. This year, schools have hiked the fee between 8 per cent and 12 per cent.
Why has this remained a contentious issue between parents and schools? Why did the education department decide to mirror the Punjab rules?
In the absence of a proper policy, schools hike the fee by 10-12 per cent each year. In 2017, after a number of parents moved court on the fee hike by private schools, the UT Administration told the High Court that it has proposed to extend the Punjab rules to Chandigarh. A draft was prepared by the education department last year and they were awaiting a nod from the Centre for its implementation.
A petitioner, Ritesh Pandey, approached the court through a PIL in February 2017, seeking directions on the arbitrary fee hike of private schools. Pandey submitted that the schools have hiked the fee by 10 per cent, by clubbing the development and tuition fees. Schools, on the other hand, say there is a high possibility that the implementation will face a lot of litigation from the schools. According to them, a ruling by the Supreme Court states that schools can increase the fee up to 10 per cent. Another SC ruling also says that there can be no parity between the fee structure of schools as each offers a different educational experience.
Under the Societies Registration Act, charitable organisations could seek tax concession if there was a surplus expenditure of up to 10 per cent. Beyond that, it became a commercial activity and then they could be brought under the tax net. Hence, the ruling by the Supreme Court.
What do the Punjab fee regulation rules state and what are the modifications proposed by UT?
Besides providing for the constitution of a regulatory body, the rules contain provisions on imposing penalty on the educational institutions resorting to unjustified hike of the annual fee.
The UT, in its draft policy, proposed to double the penalty in case a school violates the rules. The MHA asked UT to amend the policy for the penalty to be stricter.
This fine can go up to Rs 2 lakh, according to the new rules. Schools will have to justify the fee hike under the Act and submit to audit by the education department to justify their hike.