The Kerala High Court on Tuesday dismissed a PIL against collection of school fee during lockdown period.
Two students of Sree Buddha Central School, Sreelekshmi S. and Dhanvin M. Pillai, had approached the High Court seeking to direct the Government to issue directions to the Schools conducting online/virtual classes using modern video conferencing techniques to ensure that no student is denied the same on the reason on failure to pay fee. They submitted that, during the lockdown from March to May, 2020, though the schools were closed and online classes commenced only from June 2020, but the students have been asked to pay tuition fees for the said period also.
The bench comprising of the Chief Justice S. Manikumar and Justice Shaji P. Chaly agreed with the contention on behalf of the school that, even during the lock down period, monthly salaries for the teaching and non-teaching staff have to be paid. It also observed that the maintenance expenditure is a factor to be considered.
"The main contention of the petitioners is that no fee should be collected during the lock down period. As rightly contended by the learned counsel for the respondents 6 and 7, whether there is lock down or not, monthly salaries for the teaching and non-teaching staff have to be paid. Though not contended, judicial notice can be taken that maintenance expenditure is a factor to be considered. Considering the fact that there is no change in the fees for the last year and the current year, and for other reasons stated supra, the demand of the petitioners that no fees can be collected during the lock down period cannot be accepted", the bench held.
The Court also added that it cannot issue any direction to the Government, to prescribe a uniform fee in all the CBSE schools. It was contended that in other states in India viz., Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Delhi, Governments have issued guidelines that fees are to be collected on monthly basis and not to deny course material or online classes to any students for the want of payment of fees. Rejecting this contention, the bench said:
"As per CBSE guidelines, revision of fee is subject to the laws or regulations framed by the appropriate Government. Though according to the learned counsel for the petitioner, things are not different in other States, decisions of the States stated supra, cannot be said to have a uniform application throughout the country, as each State is empowered to take a decision."
The Court also noted that there is no change in the school fees for the last year and the current year.
Though the writ petition was dismissed, the Court clarified that the dismissal will not be a bar to consider the request of the petitioners for making monthly payment, if any, in accordance with law. The school was directed to consider such request.
The case was referred to the division bench by a single bench in view of the "substantial public interest involved".
On Tuesday, the High Court of Punjab and Haryana had held that all schools, irrespective of whether they offered online classes during the lock-down period or not, are entitled to collect the tuition fee. The Delhi High Court had also rejected the plea seeking a direction to the Directorate of Education asking it to prohibit schools from charging even the tuition fee during lockdown period.
But Uttarakhand High Court, in an order passed in May 2020, had restrained all private unaided schools in the state from demanding tution fee from parents, in view of the lockdown situation
Case name: Sreelekshmi S. vs. State of Kerala
Case no.: WP(C).No.10867 OF 2020
Coram: Chief Justice S. Manikumar and Justice Shaji P. Chaly
Counsel: Advocate Manu Ramachandran