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'Schools Should be Alive to Parents Hardships During Pandemic': PIL In Bombay High Court Seeks Fee Reduction

Sharmeen Hakim
15 Jun 2021 4:13 PM GMT
Schools Should be Alive to Parents Hardships During Pandemic: PIL  In Bombay High Court Seeks Fee Reduction
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A PIL is filed in the Bombay High Court challenging the fees charged by all aided and unaided schools in Maharashtra during the Covid-19 pandemic and has sought a 50% reduction in fees for the academic years 2020-22, citing the school's unutilized facilities by students. In the alternative, the plea seeks directions to Divisional Fee Regulatory Committee to call for reports on the...

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A PIL is filed in the Bombay High Court challenging the fees charged by all aided and unaided schools in Maharashtra during the Covid-19 pandemic and has sought a 50% reduction in fees for the academic years 2020-22, citing the school's unutilized facilities by students.

In the alternative, the plea seeks directions to Divisional Fee Regulatory Committee to call for reports on the fee structure of each school for the academic year 2020-21 and ask the Committee to decide the fee afresh by considering the exigencies of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Parents should be allowed to pay the fees in instalments, students should not be debarred from attending online or physical classes due to non-payment of fees, and board examination results shouldn't be withheld, as per section 21 of the Maharashtra Educational Institutions (Regulation of Fee) Act, 2011, the plea further states.

On Tuesday, Justices S P Deshmukh and G S Kulkarni briefly heard the petitioners, represented by senior counsel Birendra Saraf. They directed the state to file its response to the PIL filed by BJP MLA Atul Bhatkhalkar and three others.

After the state's counsel Geeta Shastri submitted that the Divisional Fee Regulatory Committee has already been constituted by a notification issued on June 7, 2021, under section 7(1) of the Maharashtra Educational Institutions' provisions (Regulation of Fee) Act of 2011, the bench asked the state to place details of the regulatory body on record.

The plea states that as per the 2011 Act and Maharashtra Educational Institutions (Regulation of Fee) Rules, 2016, the school's management places the proposed school fee before the Executive Committee, comprising the Principal and parent-teacher representatives, six months in advance. Either party can then challenge the Committee's decision before the Divisional Fee Regulatory Committee.

Several aspects like the school's location, over head costs, etc, are meant to be factored in by the Committee.

However, while numerous schools don't have such Committees, the pandemic was never factored in by schools in breach of the Act and Rules, the plea alleges.

"The management of the schools cannot be heard to collect fees in respect of activities and facilities which are, in fact, not provided to or [not] availed by the students due to the circumstances beyond their control in the current pandemic."

"In other words, the schools did not consider the other factors [that] arose due to COVID-19 pandemic as per Section 9 of the Act, 2011 and Rule 11 of Rule, 2016 while charging fees for the academic year 2020-21 during which functioning of the school is restricted to online classes."

"Demanding fees even in respect of overheads as on such activities is nothing short of indulging in profiteering and commercialization… private schools cannot be allowed to receive capitation fee or indulge in profiteering in the guise of autonomy in the current COVID-19 situation."

Calling the pandemic an "unprecedented situation" with a "serious effect" on parents, with many losing their jobs and livelihood as an aftermath of such economic upheaval, the petition says that the schools cannot be rigid.

The plea adds that the school's endeavour should be that even a single student shouldn't leave out or denied the opportunity to pursue his/her education to effectuate the adage "live and let live."

"The school management supposedly engaged in doing charitable activity of imparting education, is expected to be responsive and alive to the situation and take necessary remedial measures to mitigate the hardship suffered by the students and their parents."

Therefore, the petition prays that the State of Maharashtra and the School and Education Department should take steps to ensure that the Act and Rules are followed through their respective Principal Secretaries.

Moreover, the 50% reduction in school fee, as is given to students enrolled under the Right to Education Act, should also be provided to other students or the court may then determine the percentage reduction, the petition states.

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In March, 2021, 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, which 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. However, it clarified that the GR is prospective in nature and would not affect cases where the fee was fixed and accepted before the GR.


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