The Rajasthan High Court has made a prima facie observation that schools cannot be deprived of tuition fees from students with respect to online classes.
At the same time, the Court noted that the operational costs of the school at present were less when compared to normal times. Accordingly, a single bench passed an interim order allowing schools to take 70% of tuition fees from students for period from March 2020 in 3 installments.
The three installments shall be fixed by depositing the first installment on or before 30.9.2020 while the second installment shall be paid by 30.11.2020 and third installment shall be paid by 31.1.2021, ordered the Court.
The bench of Justice Sanjeev Prakash Sharma further held that students who default on the payment of fees cannot be expelled from the school but can be disallowed from attending the online classes, the HC added.
The Court passed the interim order in the writ petitions filed by Society of Catholic Education Institutions in Rajasthan and Progressive Schools Association, Nisa Education,School Shiksha Pariwar Sanstha and D.G.J. Educational Society challenging the orders passed by the State Government asking schools to defer the collection of fees from students indefinitely till the State Government takes any decision for the opening of the schools. The Government also directed that the names of students should not be struck off for non-payment of fees.
The petitioners challenged the government orders contending that such directions were beyond the scope of the Disaster Management Act. It was further contended that the schools were delivering online classes in full-scale, incurring expenses. Salaries of teachers also need to be paid, the schools submitted. Hence, the petitioners contended that an absolute embargo on the collection of fees was unreasonable and arbitrary.
The State Government defended the order stating that it was issued taking note of the impact of the pandemic and the lockdown on the lives of the people. Parents had to incur extra expenditure to buy laptops for onlnie classes of their children and therefore, compelling them to meet the heavy fee structure, when regular earnings have dropped, is not humane., submitted the stated.
The bench, referring to various orders passed by different High Courts on the issue, observed :
"...this Court is of the view that prima facie, members of the petitioner association cannot be deprived of receiving the tuition fees for the students, who continued to remain on their roll".
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The Court also expressed the prima facie view that the orders will come within the ambit of Disaster Management Act as the State has wide powers to lay down guidelines to mitigate the loss to the citizens during a disaster.
To strike a balance between the competing interests, the Court ordered :
"...this Court by an interim measure and till the situation gets normalized, directs the school authorities to allow the students to continue their studies online and allow them to deposit 70% of the tuition fees element from the total fees being charged for the year. The said 70% of the tuition fees shall be paid for the period from March, 2020 in three installments to the respective schools.
However, it is made clear that on nonpayment of the said fees, the student(s) may not be allowed to join online classes, but shall not be expelled from the school. The three installments shall be fixed by depositing the first installment on or before 30.9.2020 while the second installment shall be paid by 30.11.2020 and third installment shall be paid by 31.1.2021.
However, it is further made clear that the question regarding remaining fees shall be examined at the stage of final disposal of these writ petitions. The orders are being passed as interim arrangement subject to final adjudication of the case".
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