In a relief to school managements, the Bombay High Court on Friday stayed until further orders a May 8 Maharashtra government resolution (GR) barring schools from hiking fees for six weeks for the academic year 2020-21 in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A division bench of Justice Ujjal Bhuyan and Justice Riyaz Chagla was hearing a clutch of pleas challenging the GR filed by educational institutions, including Association of Indian Schools (which runs ICSE and CBSE-affiliated schools), Global Education Foundation, Kasegaon Education Trust and Sant Dnyaneshwar Mauli Sanstha.
In a circular issued on March 30, the school education department had said that schools cannot compel parents to pay fees during the lockdown. The May 8 GR, while barring schools from hiking fees, had also directed them not to collect yearly one-time fees for academic years 2019-20 and 2020-21 and give parents an option to deposit the same on a monthly or quarterly basis.
The GR had also suggested that the schools, in consultation with the Executive Parents Teachers Association, should deliberate on whether fees can be reduced owing to facilities that remain unused during the lockdown.
Aggrieved by the decision, educational institutions across the state had approached the HC.
The Kasegaon Education Trust, which runs a school in Navi Mumbai, submitted through senior counsel Milind Sathe and advocate Saket Mone that the decision was in violation of their fundamental rights and put unnecessary restrictions on administration of educational institutions, which includes right to regulate and fix fees.
The petitioners also alleged that a notice issued by the state on May 29 had said that action will be taken against the schools under the
Epidemic Diseases Act if they don’t abide by the May 8 GR. They described it as an illegal exercise of statutory powers by the state.
The Association of Indian Schools submitted that expenses of member schools have increased on account of the lockdown, as they have been creating IT infrastructure for e-learning and making substantial efforts in redesigning their course structures, methods of teaching and equipping thousands of teachers with laptops and data access at home.
The state government, through advocates Bhupesh Samant and Manish Pable, stated that it had powers to take such decisions under the Fees Act and Disaster Management Act.
After hearing submissions, the bench stayed the operation of the May 8 GR until further orders, pending final hearing and disposal of the pleas. It posted the matter for further hearing after six weeks.
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