A PIL has been filed before the Odisha High Court seeking for directions to all private aided and unaided schools to waive tuition fees or other charges for the lockdown period or till commencement of classes.
Filed by Advocate Mohammed Mustaq Ansari, the PIL contends that it has been filed in the interest of general public as "it would give relief to thousands of parents who are facing or will further face hardships because of the complete lockdown during this ongoing pandemic". The PIL goes on to assert that, as a result of the lockdown, people have been facing a financial crunch due to blockage of earning sources; there are many families who are surviving at the mercy of state authorities and other non-governmental agencies. Therefore, there could be thousands of parents who may not be in a position to pay the school fee of their wards at revised rates or even at existing rates if demanded. The plea refers to a tweet of Chief Minister of Odisha Naveen Patnaik which advises all private educational institutions in the State to consider reduction/deferment of fees for the month of April 2020 to June 2020. It also refers to a news report which states that the Union Government has urged private schools across the country to not increase school fees, and to not charge three-month fees in one go. It is submitted that the online services which have been extended by the school during the lockdown should not be equated with physical classes or lectures as the infrastructures and other facilities of the schools are not in use. However, in order to ensure that the salaries are provided to the staff members, the plea suggests that "it is the responsibility of the State Govt. to take appropriate measures or such other action as may be deemed fit and proper". The plea seeks for the invocation of the doctrine of "Parens Patriae", refers to the case of Charan Lal Sahu v. Union of India (1990) and states that it "is applicable to the common people of the state who are undisputedly the victims of this mass disaster and the State Govt. being the guardian of its residents shall assume the role of parents and shall take all necessary steps to protect the rights and interest of its residents". In conclusion, the PIL prays for directions to be issued to the Govt. of Odisha to pass necessary order directing both the private unaided and aided schools not to collect Tuition Fee for the lockdown periods preferably for the month of March 2020 till June 2020 or until actual commencement of classes. It also prays for directions to not increase any fee in the academic session of 2020-2021 or to put any extra financial burden upon the parents by creating any new head of fee for the academic session of 2020-2021. In the end, it prays for functionaries within their respective districts to take strict action against the Managing Committees who fail to comply with such directions of the Government, and for the Government of Odisha to provide sufficient funds to all those private schools who will be unable to bear their basic liabilities.
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