March 3, 2021 1:22:58 am
In a relief to thousands of students and their parents, the Bombay High Court directed private unaided schools not to take coercive action of debarring any student from online or physical classes or attending the examinations on account of non-payment of the “increased component” of fees fixed for the academic year (AY) 2020-21 over the preceding academic year 2019-20 on this ground alone.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni on Monday disposed of a clutch of petitions challenging a May 8, 2020 state government resolution (GR) that barred private unaided schools from fee hike for academic year 2020-21 in view of Covid-19 pandemic.
The schools submitted that the decision was in violation of their fundamental rights and put unnecessary restrictions on administration of educational institutions, which includes the right to regulate and fix fees.
The court order copy was made available on Tuesday evening.
The May 8, 2020 GR, while preventing private schools from recovering 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. Earlier, in June 2020, maintaining that the state government does not have power to issue an order barring private unaided schools from for the academic year 2020-21 in wake of the pandemic, the HC had stayed the GR.
The bench had on March 1 vacated the interim stay on GR and said, “The Government Resolution dated May 8, 2020, is only prospective in nature and cannot apply to schools which have already fixed/declared their fee for the Academic Year 2020-2021 and/or where such fees are duly accepted in terms of the amended Fee Regulation Act or has been acted upon before the GR.”
It added that the question of validity of GR as raised in the pleas is not decided and is “expressly kept open”.
“We are of the opinion that interest of justice would be sufficiently served if the State considers the issues in regard to each of such educational institutions, on a case-to-case basis…”
While the Court said that the May 8, 2020 GR “does not and cannot be construed as a direction for refund of any fees collected for 2020-2021”, however, “the state government can take action upon receipt of complaints or suo motu, against the particular schools violating provisions of the law and those who have not determined fees for AY 2020-21.”
The HC also said that any such complaint or suo motu inquiry shall be decided as early as possible and concerned educational institutions should be heard for the same. It said that pending the conclusion of the inquiry, no action shall be taken against the institution in case of any adverse order being passed and the same shall not be implemented for four weeks thereafter.
The bench said, “It is expressly clarified that all rights and contentions in this regard especially whether the State has the power to conduct such inquiry is kept open… It is also clarified that the protection to parents in respect of the AY 2020-2021 shall apply only in the event there is an increase in fees fixed in the AY 2020-2021 from the fees fixed in the Academic Year 2019-2020 and even in such a case only in respect of the increased component of fees and not the entire fees.”
Disposing of the plea, the HC said that the ruling does not entitle any parent to claim that fees are not payable and protection is granted only in the peculiar circumstances due to pandemic and therefore only for the AY 2020-21.
“It does not prevent the educational institutions from taking such actions as may be permissible in law against the students who are in arrears or have defaulted in payment of fees for the earlier academic years or subsequent academic years,” the HC said.
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