With a recent government resolution (GR) of the Gujarat Education department leading to a face-off between parents of school-going students and private school associations, the Gujarat High Court (HC) on Thursday questioned the state government regarding the logic behind issuing the GR dated July 16. The GR, made public on July 22, stipulated that private schools in the state cannot charge any kind of fees from students for tuition or other co-curricular activities for the period of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Taking up three public interest litigations (PILs) moved before the HC by parents of school-going students in Gujarat in June, a division bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice JB Pardiwala inquired as to why a decision was taken by the state government to not permit schools to charge fees and the logic behind this decision.
To this, the state had responded that the decision was broadly guided by the aspect wherein due to the financial crisis, parents were found to be unable to pay the fees, as was highlighted in the three PILs. The state government also informed the court that they had requested schools to give fee concessions, but the schools hadn’t agreed to the same, following which the said resolution was put in place.
Advocate Vishal Dave, who was representing the parents’ in one of the PILs, told this paper, “The court also inquired about the aspect of how schools will pay salaries to their staff and teachers in light of this resolution, to which the state had responded that there is a provision in the notification wherein salaries and other expenditures incurred by the schools in this academic year (2020-2021) can be produced before the Fee Regulatory Committee for the next academic year. To this, the court then said that this would in turn increase the burden on parents next year.”
The court also put forth a scenario before the state government, wherein both parents of a school-going child are teachers, and asked how such an issue would be tackled in light of this resolution, wherein both earning members’ salaries may be affected and yet, their child’s education would have to be paid for.
Dave added that on behalf of the parents, the litigants on Thursday submitted that schools should not charge the fees from March to June as no classes, online or otherwise, were conducted during this period. “We also submitted that even for conducting online classes, the schools are charging for extra-curriculars, which are not included in these classes. Plus, most schools are taking fees in advance for a quarter,” said Dave.
Meanwhile, a petition moved by the Federation of Self-Financed Schools and the Association of Progressive Schools was taken up by a single-judge bench of Justice GR Udhwani on Thursday, but is now expected to be heard further by the division bench along with the PILs on Friday.
This petition has primarily challenged the provision in the GR wherein the current academic year’s expenditure during the lockdown period can be included in the next year’s proposal before the FRC. It has also challenged another provision wherein the GR permits that the parents who have paid the fees in advance must be reimbursed the additional amount against the fee chargeable in the next installment.
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