HC says SCs, STs, OBCs, BPL, disabled students, wards of freedom fighters should not be charged an exorbitant fee
Coming to the aid of thousands of students and parents who suffer the wrath of exorbitant education fee in private unaided schools and professional institutions in the state, the Uttarakhand High Court has directed the state government to bring in a law to regulate the admission and fee structure in such institutions within three months.
A bench of Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Lok Pal Singh also quashed the appointment of Justice Shri Gurmeet Ram as chairman of the Admission and Fee Regulatory Committee and Justice Shri Brijesh Kumar Srivastava as chairman of the Appellate Authority since they were appointed by the government by way of an amendment made in the year 2010 to the Uttarakhand Unaided Private Professional Education Institutions (Regulation of Admission and Fixation of Fee) Act, 2006.
Prior to the amendment, the said appointments were to be made by way of nomination by the Chief Justice of High Court.
The bench also asked the state to send the proposal to the Chief Justice for appointment of chairman to these committees while also directing that “the Admission and Fee Regulatory Committee shall ensure that the fee structure of students belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, Disabled persons, persons below poverty line and including wards of Freedom fighters is not exorbitant”.
The court was hearing a petition filed by Pradeep Dutta highlighting how professional unaided educational institutions in the state were charging exorbitant fees and the students were asked to furnish advance bank guarantees while students from poor financial status could not take admission in these institutions.
Dutta’s counsel Pulak Raj Mullick told the court that the state government, though, has enacted the Act to regulate fees in private unaided professional educational institutions, but till date, it has not taken any steps to regulate the fees as far as private un-aided schools are concerned.
While allowing the writ petition, the bench passed the following directions:
A. The amendments carried out vide notification dated 26.03.2010 in clause (a) of sub-section (1) of Section 4 and in clause (a) of sub-section (1) of Section 12 are struck down.
B. The appointments of Justice Shri Gurmeet Ram as Chairman of Admission and Fee Regulatory Committee and Justice Shri Brijesh Kumar Srivastava as chairman of Appellate Authority are quashed and set aside.
C. The state government is directed to send the proposal to the Chief Justice of the High Court for nominating retired judges of the high court as chairman of the Admission and Fee Regulatory Committee as well as the chairman of the Appellate Authority within three weeks from today.D. We recommend/suggest the state government to bring suitable legislation for regulating the admission and fee structure in private unaided schools in the State within three months from today.
E. The Admission and Fee Regulatory Committee shall ensure that the fee structure of students belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, disabled persons, persons below the poverty line and including wards of freedom fighters is not exorbitant.
F. The Admission and Fee Regulatory Committee is directed to regulate the fee as per the law laid down by their Lordships of the Supreme Court in the judgments reported in 2003 (6) SCC 697 (Islamic Academy Of Education & Another v. State Of Karnataka & Others) and 2005 (6) SCC 537 (PA Inamdar v. State of Maharashtra).
In its order, the bench also noted, “The students belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, candidates belonging to BPL category and Other Backward Classes should not be charged exorbitant fees. The private unaided schools and colleges are provided land by the State government at concessional rates. The private unaided schools and colleges should provide at least 5% preference/quota to the students belonging to BPL category towards their constitutional and social responsibilities”.
While setting aside the amendment and quashing the appointments, the bench noted in its decision, “The duties to be discharged by the Chairman of the admission and Fee Regulatory Committee and by the Chairman of the Appellate Authority are of great public importance. The State Government cannot be permitted to do indirectly which it could not do directly. It was expected from the State Government to send the proposal to the Chief Justice to appoint the Chairman of the Admission and Fee Regulatory Committee as well as for the appointment of the Chairman of the Appellate Authority”.
Referring to the Right to Education Act and relying on the Supreme Court judgment in PA Inamdar & Others vs. State of Maharastra & Others, the bench said the apex court has held that professional education should be made accessible on the criterion of merit and on non-exploitative terms to all eligible students on a uniform basis.
“Their Lordships have further held that every institution is free to devise its own fee structure but the same can be regulated in the interest of preventing profiteering. No capitation fee can be charged directly or indirectly, or in any form,” it noted.
The bench also relied on the apex court’s decision in Islamic Academy of Education & another v. State of Karnataka & others, wherein the court had directed the respective states to appoint a permanent committee which will ensure that the tests conducted by the association of colleges are fair and transparent and that for each state a separate committee shall be formed to be headed by a retired judge of the high court. The judge was to be nominated by the Chief Justice of that state.
The court was also said that it was alive to the fact that parents, including government employees, were getting their wards admitted in private schools because the government schools lack proper infrastructure, especially in rural areas, which is further impeding the development of villages.