The Supreme Court today allowed private schools in Rajasthan to collect 85 percent of fees (as announced in the year 2019-20) for the academic year 2020-21. While the 15 percent deduction is in lieu of unutilised facilities by the students during academic period 2020-21, students will be required to pay the fees before August 5, 2021.
In what could be a cue to other state governments across the country, the court clarified the state cannot invoke Disaster Management Act (2005), Epidemic Disease Act (1897) or Article 162 (power to issue any executive order for state list subjects) to regulate school fees. To “give finality to the issue,” the bench consisting of Justice A.M. Khanvilkar and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari said, “ We have consciously limited the quantum of deduction from annual school fees to 15 percent…as we have compelled the school management to collect annual school fees for the academic year 2020-21 as was fixed for the academic year 2019-20 on which some of the school managements could have legitimately asked for increase of at least 10 percent in terms of Section 6(5) of the act of 2016.”
The Apex court also ruled that schools cannot deny students access to online education or physical classes on account of non-payment of fees and shall also not withheld a students’ examination results on that account. With regards to parents who faced financial difficulties due to the pandemic, the court directed them to approach the school on an individual basis while asking schools to take a sympathetic view of such representations.
While the final judgement differs from the court’s interim order of February 8 wherein it allowed schools in Rajasthan to collect 100 percent fees (as announced in 2019-20), the judgement appears to be balanced as it endorses the right of private school managements to charge parents for the services they provide. The Court has asked schools to be sensitive to the current pandemic situation and to the problems faced by parents at this time may be facing but it has also given a logical explanation for its decision.
“School managements have gone out of their way to be accommodative but the state government never took us into confidence before passing one-sided orders. The Supreme Court has validated the rights of private schools and has at the same time criticised the style of state governments to interfere unnecessarily in the affairs of private schools,” says Damodar Goyal, president, Society for Unaided Private Schools of Rajasthan and managing committee member, Maharaja Sawai Man Singh Vidyala, Jaipur.
The Apex court’s validation comes as a major relief to private school managements in Rajasthan who have been opposing the state government’s confusing and pro-parent stance with regards to payment of fees. After the countrywide lockdown following the COVID pandemic in 2020, the state government first asked schools to defer fee payment by three months (April 9) and then issued orders (July 7) asking schools to abstain from demanding any fees until the resumption of regular school. In October last year, the government permitted all CBSE affiliated schools to collect 70 percent of the tuition fees while state board schools were allowed to collect 60 percent of the tuition fees. The same was upheld by the Rajasthan high court too.
Private schools across the state have been forced to approach the courts to seek justice against such government orders. In the absence of fees, school managements have been struggling to sustain itself and provide education through online mode. Many school managements have been unable to pay salaries to their teachers and other staff. It was while hearing a batch of petitions from private schools that the Supreme Court had passed the earlier interim order while staying the Rajasthan high court’s order dated December 18, 2020 that directed private schools to collect only 60-70 percent tuition fees for the academic year 2020-21.
School managements had also petitioned the Apex Court challenging the Rajasthan Fee Act (2016), the Supreme Court has allowed for the state’s school-level fee committees (SLFC) to have an extra school management representation for a more balanced committee. Currently, the SLFC which is responsible fee-related decisions of each school, has five parents, three teachers, one principal and one management representative only. However, the Court upheld the Act with almost the same provisions.
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