Aditi Maheshwari (Bhopal)
The issue of fees payable by parents of children in private unaided schools during the pandemic close down which is convulsing the nation, has not bypassed the Hindi heartland state of Madhya Pradesh (pop.73 million), India’s largest state by land area (308,245 sq. km). On February 12, following a public march by agitated parents in Bhopal — the admin capital of the state — Kamal Vishwakarma, president of the city-based Private School Parent Association, presented a petition to Inder Singh Parmar, minister of education of the BJP government of Madhya Pradesh.
The association’s petition alleged that despite numerous government notifications and high court orders, a large number of private schools are charging fees under numerous heads of expenditure. “This is unacceptable and in violation of a November 5, 2020 order passed by the Jabalpur bench of the Madhya Pradesh high court to the effect that private schools can levy only the tuition fee. This situation needs to be urgently remedied by the education ministry and state government,” says Vishwakarma.
The court’s judgement of last November was based on its interpretation of the Madhya Pradesh Niji Vidyalaya (Private Schools Regulation) Act, 2017 enacted by the previous Congress government of the state which was dramatically ousted by the BJP in a legislative coup in March last year.
“In order to strike a balance among stakeholders — who include students, parents, teachers and management — we direct that the students/parents shall pay tuition fee as per order dated September 1, 2020, which shall not be inclusive of library fee, computer fee, practical fee, examination fee (subject to examination not being held) and fee for programmes organised on occasions such as national festivals, sporting events and development fee,” ruled the court on November 5 in response to a writ petition filed by the Association of Unaided CBSE Schools of Madhya Pradesh. Simultaneously, the bench directed private schools to ensure that children are not deprived of online education and that teachers’ salaries are paid fully with arrears, if any, to be cleared by the end of the current academic year.
Although the high court ruling has dismayed the vast majority of MP’s budget private schools in particular which are confronted with an unprecedented cash crunch, some private school leaders are sympathetic to the plight of parents whose incomes and businesses have been upended by the national lockdown of industry and business for over six-eight months following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic a year ago.
“The Covid-19 pandemic was a surprise disaster and the nation has to stand by the middle and lower middle-class parents community. Private schools should draw on their savings to tide over the crisis and cut their expenditure while deploying tuition fees to meet the salaries expenses of teachers,” says Sandeep Gupta, vice principal of the Little Angels Convent High School, Bhopal.
This point of view was accepted by Association of Unaided CBSE Schools which petitioned the government to ensure that the reduced tuition fee is paid immediately. But following a government directive to parents to pay tuition fees forthwith, the Private School Parents’ Association filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against the MP high court’s November 5 order.
“Private schools in MP have been very sympathetic to the income and job losses suffered by our parents during the pandemic, and our association — even if reluctantly — accepted the MP high court’s 70 percent of tuition fees-only order. However, several parents associations misled by their leaders, have appealed the Supreme Court against the high court’s order. Parents should be more sympathetic to huge financial losses suffered by private schools and also by their children’s Covid warrior teachers who may suffer salary cuts and job loss. They should withdraw their appeal in the Supreme Court and accept the high court order. They should also bear in mind that the Supreme Court has recently upheld a Rajasthan high court order that parents should pay 100 percent of contracted fees,” warns Siddharth Singh, director of the Emerald Heights International School, Indore and member of the Association of Unaided CBSE Schools.
Private school parents would do well to heed this advice and aid and enable managements of schools preparing their children for an increasingly uncertain future.