The Madras High Court on Friday allowed all unaided private institutions in the state of Tamil Nadu to collect 40% of the tuition fees as 'advance fees', based on the tuition fees for the academic year 2019-2020.
"This advance fee shall be paid by the students on or before August 31", directed Justice N. Anand Venkatesh.
"The balance of 35% of the fees based on the tuition fees collected for the academic year 2019-2020, shall be collected within a period of two months from the date on which the institution is reopened and physical classes commences", it is ordered.
In so far as it has been suggested on behalf of the government that 75% of the tuition fee for the academic year 2020-2021 can be collected in three instalments and that the 2nd instalment of 25% is made payable after the opening of the institutions, the Court did not "find any visibility of the institutions reopening and conducting physical classes in the near future". Therefore, the Single Bench was of the view that the initial percentage of the payment of tuition fee must be increased.
Hearing the writ petitions of unaided institutions aggrieved of a Government Order which had "virtually put a lid on the institutions from collecting tuition fees" on account of the pandemic situation, the Single Judge opined that "many decisions which seems to be right at the time when it is taken goes completely wrong at a later point of time". "This is due to the fact that there is no clear visibility as to when the normalcy will be restored", said the bench.
The other directions issued by the court on Friday are as follows:
1. The bench also permitted such unaided private institutions to collect the arrears of fees payable for the academic year 2019-2020, requiring such arrears fees to be paid on or before September 30.
2. If any student has already paid the entire fees including arrears, the same shall not be a ground to claim for refund of the fees.
3. The fee Committee shall immediately start the process of the determining the tuition fees for the respective institutions and make an attempt to complete the process within a period of eight months starting from August 2020 onwards.
4. The payment of balance if any, shall be determined after the final decision of the fee Committee.
5. The directions given to the fee Committee will not in any way prejudice to the rights of the institutions which have already challenged the jurisdiction of the determination of the fees and which are pending before this Court and the Supreme Court.
6. The teaching and non teaching staff shall not insist for any increment in salary and/or DA, until the restoration of normalcy and further orders of this Court.
The State Government is directed to immediately take into consideration the request made by the institutions to supply text books and note books to the students either free of cost or at some nominal rates. For this purpose, the State Government can also get the particulars from the respective Schools regarding the students who are in dire straits and it can also be confined to those students. Asserting that this direction is issued purely in the interest of the students who should not be deprived of education due to their inability to purchase text books and note books, the bench expressed its hope that the State Government will come up with a positive response in this regard.
The Court was of the view that the immediate requirement for the present is that the institutions must kick start their functioning. In order to commence the said process, these unaided institutions require some flow of funds. "Admittedly, all these institutions are unaided and they depend upon only fees collected from the students. This money is required to pay the salary of the teachers and non teaching staff without whom the institutions will not be able to function", observed the bench.
"The respective managements have managed to pay the salaries to the teachers and the non teaching staffs from their available reserve funds till date. This process cannot go on endlessly", said the court.
The Single Judge was also alive to the fact that "the other end of the spectrum" is that many of the parents are also in the receiving end either because of no income or with a reduced income and consequently, their ability to pay the fees for their children is also under question.
Asserting that the "education of the students cannot be put on a hold endlessly" and that they have to be engaged in studies, the bench commented that "this deadly virus is not going to leave us by fixing any date as an outer limit and it is not known for how many more months we are going to face the present situation".
In the same breath, the court acknowledged that the Covid 2019 Pandemic has posed huge challenges to the entire human kind all over the world, and that "all the Governments are grappling to handle the situation" and "every day new challenges stare at the face of the State and Central Government".
Besides, the continued lock down/phased opening up of operations, has virtually stalled the economic progress, and the savings and contingency funds are dwindling every day due to the non availability of income. The economic breakdown has virtually come to a stage where the livelihoodof many persons is under challenge.
"We are facing a very extreme situation and at this point of time, the courts must be very careful while interfering with the administrative decisions taken by the Government", clarified the bench.