"It does appear that subtle means are being adopted by these private institutions to force parents to pay the tuition fees. Since payment of tuition fee by students is voluntary, none of the private schools shall send e-mails or WhatsApp messages or any form of communication to the parents calling upon them to pay the tuition fees."
The Uttarkhand High Court on Tuesday restrained all private unaided schools in the state from demanding tution fee from parents, in view of the lockdown situation.
The order has been passed by a bench of Chief Justice Ramesh Ranganathan and Justice RC Khulbe in conformity with the state Government's order dated May 2, 2020, whereby private schools were prohibited from collecting any fees other than tuition fees and payment of tuition fees was made voluntary.
The bench has directed that "it is only those students, who are able to access the online course being offered by the private educational institutions, who would be required to pay the tuition fee, if they choose to do so."
While the court acknowledged that the schools incurred huge expenditure towards payment of salaries to their teachers and staff and maintenance of other faculties, it went on to hold that "the object of the Government Order dated 02.05.2020 is to ease the burden on parents, who do not even have the means to earn their livelihood in this period of crisis."
The bench observed,
"While the difficulties of these institutions, in having to incur expenditure without collecting fees from its students, is understandable, times of crisis like these would require the haves to extend a helping hand to the have-nots. The Government Order dated 02.05.2020 binds these private schools and, as long as it continues to remain in force, they are bound to adhere to the conditions stipulated therein."
As per the Govt order, the facility for collecting tuition fee was extended to private unaided schools only in cases where they were conducting online classes for its students. The private unaided schools, which were not conducting online classes, were prohibited even from collecting tuition fees from its students.
However, the bench was apprised while hearing of two PILs filed by Japinder Singh and Akash Yadav, that the private schools in the state had been "coercing parents" to pay tuition fees.
It was informed that some of the schools were conducting online classes even for Upper Kindergarten students, "only to collect tuition fees from gullible parents."
Restraining all schools from indulging in such activities, the bench issued the following directions:
The Petitioners had contended that the State of Uttarakhand is a hilly and poor State, wherein several of its inhabitants lack internet access resulting in their children not being able to participate in the online classes conducted by the schools, despite which they are being forced to pay the tuition fees for their children.
Responding to this the bench remarked that a statutory obligation is cast on private unaided schools, under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, to provide free education to certain categories of students who can ill-afford to pay the fees. It also clarified that students who do not have access to online classes will not be required to pay tution fee.
The court has now asked the Secretary, Department of School Education, to submit a report stating the following:
The matter will be heard on May 26.
Case Title: Japinder Singh v. Union of India and Akash Yadav v. State of Uttarakhand & Ors.
Case No.: WP (PIL) No. 59/2020 and 60/2020
Quorum: Chief Justice Ramesh Ranganathan and Justice RC Khulbe
Appearance: Advocates Ajay Veer Pundir and Abhilasha Belwal, holding brief of Advocate Lalit Belwal (for Petitioners); Chief Standing Counsel Paresh Tripathi (for State); Asst. Solicitor General Rakesh Thapliyal (for Union of India); Advocates Sandeep Tiwari, SK Mandal and Shikhar Kacker (for applicants in Impleadment Applications).
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