Maharashtra Govt Ban On School Fee Hike Prospective; Won't Apply To Schools Which Fixed Fee Before May 8, 2020 : Bombay HC
The Bombay High Court has asked Maharashtra state government to deal with complaints regarding fee hike in schools on a case-to-case basis, while disposing off a clutch of petitions by private unaided schools challenging a Government Resolution from May 8, 2020. The GR barred private unaided schools from increasing their fees for the academic year 2020-21, in view of the...
The Bombay High Court has asked Maharashtra state government to deal with complaints regarding fee hike in schools on a case-to-case basis, while disposing off a clutch of petitions by private unaided schools challenging a Government Resolution from May 8, 2020. The GR barred private unaided schools from increasing their fees for the academic year 2020-21, in view of the pandemic.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni left open the question about validity of such a resolution being passed by the government, but clarified that the GR is prospective in nature and would not affect cases where the fee was fixed and accepted before the GR.
The order implies the GR is still in force.
The bench has further said that in case a complaint is received by the State or suo motu cognisance is taken against a school, the management shall not debar or withhold results of its students till the complaint is decided. It clarified that the directions are only for the increased component of fees for 2020-21.
The bench has further said that all action taken against the petitioner schools pursuant to the 2020 GR, would stand withdrawn, but that would not stop the State from taking any action in the future.
"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 case to case basis, in the event any application/complaint is received by the State, against any institution of violation by such institution of any of the provisions of the 2011 Act, read with the provisions of the Amendment Act, 2018 or the Government Resolution dated 8th May 2020, or even suo motu upon receipt of any information in that behalf," the bench observed.
The Association of Indian Schools and several others had approached the HC challenging the GR passed under the Disaster Management Act, owing to the pandemic.
The challenge revolved around the applicability of the provisions of Maharashtra Educational Institutions (Regulations of Fee) Act, 2011 and the amended provisions, namely Sections 6(1A), 6(1B) and 6(1C) brought about by the Maharashtra Educational Institutions (Regulation of Fee) (Amendment) Act, 2018. The latter deals with conditions of fee hike, directing schools to inform parents at least one academic year in advance before increasing the fee.
In June, last year, the HC had stayed the GR and the Supreme Court had subsequently sent the case for expeditious disposal, on a plea by the State.
On Monday, the HC vacated the stay.
Senior Advocate Anil Anturkar, for the State, along with Government Pleader PP Kakade, submitted that the GR was applicable prospectively only to those schools where the fee had not already been fixed or admission process had not been initiated.
The schools said that if the GR is applicable only prospectively, one part of their argument was taken care of, especially since all the schools had already decided the fee structure well before the Government Resolution.
The State, however, disputed the fact that all the schools had increased their fee in accordance with provisions of the Act.
The bench therefore said it may not be necessary to decide the petitions based on the prayers and educational authorities can decide complaints against educational institutions under the 2011 Act read with the Amendment Act, 2018 and the May 8, 2020 GR with regards to the school fees.
"The Government Resolution dated 8th May, 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 2011 Act as amended and/or has been acted upon before the Resolution dated 8th May, 2020," the bench said.
The Court clarified that their decision cannot be misconstrued as a direction for refund.
The court also held that the State may take action against a school under the Act, but has kept the contention open whether the State has the power to conduct such an inquiry. The bench said that the school should be given 4 weeks' time to challenge an adverse order.
"The protection to parents in respect of the Academic Year 2020-2021 shall apply only in the event there is an increase in fees fixed in the Academic Year 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."