SC Tells Maharashtra Fee Regulating Authority To Hear Students, Parents Before Raising Fee Of Unaided Private Professional Educational Institutions

The Supreme Court vacation bench of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel and Justice UU Lalit on Friday observed that the fee regulating authority constituted under Section 11(3) of the Maharashtra Unaided Private Professional Educational Institutions (Regulation of Admissions and Fees) Act of 2015 must devise a mechanism to afford an opportunity of being heard to affected students in its decisions to enhance the fee structure of institutions.

The bench was hearing the SLP arising out of judgment dated November 29 of the Bombay High Court in Sucheta Das & Ors v State of Maharashtra & Ors [W.P. (C) 10927/2017], wherein the high court has upheld the order of the authority increasing the fee.

At present, the authority comprises of a retired judge, an eminent educationist, a Chartered Accountant, a Cost Accountant, an expert in the field of professional education, Registrar of the University, Director (Technical Education), Director (Higher Education), Member Secretary of Maharashtra Council of Agricultural Education and Research and an Officer of the State Government not below the rank of the Joint Secretary.

The counsel for the petitioners submitted before the bench that the respondent medical college had for the first time been established in the academic year 2015-16, with a sanctioned capacity of 100 students. The student capacity in the following year of 2016-17 was 200, with an initial fee of Rs. 4,09,000 per student, which was subsequently pegged at Rs. 5,00,000 by the authority. Thereafter, on a review application filed by the college, the authority had increased the fee per capita to Rs. 7,25,000. The grievance of the petitioner arose on the ground that in passing the order to enhance the fee, the authority merely heard the college authorities and not the students.

Senior counsel Shyam Diwan contended, “Before the fee structure was approved, a three-member fact finding committee had been constituted that had interacted with the faculty and students at the individual institutions, in addition to examining their books of accounts and physical infrastructure”.

“Such an interaction could have covered only a few students. It cannot be said that each and every affected student and their parents were heard on the issue, as envisaged under natural justice,” remarked the bench.

Although the apex court refused to interfere in the impugned order raising the fee, the bench observed, “We are of the view that the Committee ought to evolve a mechanism by which all the affected students are put to notice through the notice board of the concerned institutions and fix a particular date on which any aggrieved person can be heard by the Committee and his or her view point by way of a representation. This may be done forthwith prospectively”.

Further, the petitioners claimed that since the fee is calculated by dividing the approved aggregate expenditure for an academic year by the strength of students for that year, as the number of students increases with each year, the per capita fee amount must decrease in the subsequent years. “The per capita fee may not necessarily fall. Revenue expenditure incurred may not be constant from year to year. Also, the college cannot be said to have been completely ready in the first year of establishment itself,” it was observed.

However, the bench ruled that the committee would be free to consider “whether change of denominator every year should have bearing on the fee structure to be devised”.