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School Fee Waiver Amid Lockdown : How Various High Courts Dealt With The Issue?

Ashok Kini
5 July 2020 11:33 AM GMT
School Fee Waiver Amid Lockdown :  How Various High Courts Dealt With The Issue?
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The Supreme Court is considering a Writ Petition filed by Parents Association seeking waiver of private school fees for a period of three months starting April 1 till July 1 2020 during lockdown.

The PIL filed by Parents Associations in 9 states, namely Rajasthan, Odisha, Punjab, Gujarat, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh, contends that that it is the duty of the Government to protect the fundamental right of Right to Education in "event of inability in payment of fees due to financial hardships of a parent, the protection which is provided for ... in the Constitution". The Supreme Court is expected to consider the matter soon.

This piece intends to survey how various High Courts have dealt with similar petitions. 

Uttarakhand High Court Restrained Schools From Demanding Fee

The earliest order in this regard was passed by Uttarakhand High Court which restrained all private unaided schools in the state from demanding tution fee from parents of students who are unable to access online classes, in view of the lockdown situation. The Order was passed in May 2020. The court 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." The order was 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.

"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.", it said in the order.

A batch of appeals against this order had come up before the Supreme Court last month in which it has issued notices to the parties.

Gujarat HC: See To It That Schools Don't Proceed To Cancel Admission On Failure To Deposit Fee

While considering certain writ petitions which raised the issue of school fees, the Gujarat High Court, in an order passed on 19th June, directed the Advocate General to take up these issues with the State Government and see to it that the private schools across the State of Gujarat do not proceed to cancel the admission on failure of the parents to deposit the fees by 30.06.2020. The Court has posted these matters on 17th July 2020.

Punjab and Haryana HC: Schools Entitled To Collect Tuition Fee

The High Court of Punjab and Haryana recently 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. Justice Nirmaljit Kaur issued various directions in the matter, while considering a bunch of petitions filed by associations of unaided private schools and parents of school students, challenging the May 14 notification issued by the Director, School Education, imposing curbs on the charging of fees.

"The grievance of the parents that they should not be made to pay for the services which have not been rendered, especially when either some schools did not offer online services or because they reside in remote areas, where the online facility is not available, may be a reasonable complaint but while making the said complaint, the parents have forgotten the fact, as already noted above, that the staff and teachers have to be continuously paid the salary during this lockdown period", held the bench while dismissing the PIL.

Delhi HC: Charging of Tuition Fee Justified

Delhi High Court 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. The Court said that the charging of tuition fee is justified as schools are organising online classes, providing study materials, and paying staff salaries. The Court passed this order while dismissing a writ petition filed by one Naresh Kumar seeking a direction stating that private unaided schools should be prohibited from collecting even the tuition fee in light of the nationwide lockdown.

'While there can be no cavil, to the proposition that the requirement of payment of school fees would, necessarily, become enforceable only where the fees are payable, i.e., where the parents are physically in a position to pay the school fees, we cannot agree that, during the period of lockdown, or during the period when online education is being provided by the schools, and availed of, by students, tuition fees should be exempted. So long as schools are disseminating education online, they are certainly entitled to charge tuition fees.', the Court said.

Kerala HC: Teaching/Non-Teaching Staff Salary Has To Be Paid

The Kerala High Court also 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 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 court held.

Allahabad HC Rejects Plea Seeking Complete Waiver Of School Fees

The Allahabad High Court dismissed a public interest litigation seeking a direction on all the schools and colleges in the state to completely waive off fees, including tution fees. It dismissed a writ petition filed by one Ashutosh Kumar Pandey who contended that the period of closure of schools and colleges during the Covid crisis should be treated as a "holiday" and the institutions should be restrained from demanding fees for such period.

"Most of the schools and colleges are taking up on-line classes for the students and teachers are taking either live classes or sending videos to the students. Even students are being given homework and the same is being checked by the teachers.", the bench comprised by Justice Sunita Agarwal and Justice Saumitra Dayal Singh observed

Bombay HC: Approach the Government

The Bombay High Court dismissed a public interest litigation filed by a social worker who sought directions to schools to waive off 50% school fees in consideration of the Covid-19 pandemic and the financial distress it has caused to the parents of school children. The Division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice KK Tated dismissed the PIL by Dr.Binu Varghese.

"There is a general statement made by the PIL petitioner that parents of school going children are in financial distress. If at all the statement is correct, nothing prevents such parents to approach the Government in a group and seek framing of guidelines for reducing the quantum of tuition fees as well as for other relief during the period of lockdown considering their plight. Apart from the requisite facts and figures based on which a guideline could be framed being absent in this PIL petition, it would require a policy decision to be adopted. In matters relating to academic policy, the courts ought to stay at a distance.", the bench said

Thus, the petition was dismissed without costs and the Court clarified that this order shall not preclude aggrieved persons from pursuing their remedy in accordance with law.

Rajasthan HC Recorded Govt. Policy Decision

The Rajasthan High Court disposed of a PIL seeking waiver of school fees, after the Government apprised the court that a policy decision for the same had been taken.The Petitioner, Advocate Rajeev Bhushan Bansal had approached the High Court stating that due to lockdown situation, parents are unable to pay necessary fee to the private school authorities. Hence, he prayed that payment of school fee be waived off for the time being. The Court disposed of the PIL recording the submission made by Additional Advocate General Ganesh Meena that, the Government had issued an order for deferring the due payment of private schools fee, as on March 15, 2020, for three months.

Madhya Pradesh HC: Institutions shall not be charging any sum towards unincurred expenses  

Madhya Pradesh High Court, while considering a petition filed by Association of Unaided CBSE Schools challenging some notifications issued by the State, sought response from the state. It also clarified that the institutions shall not be charging any sum towards unincurred expenses during the period of lockdown (till the schools are closed) such as transportation and mess.
Writ petition seeking similar reliefs are also pending before High Courts of Madras, Calcutta and Orissa and no interim orders have been passed by them. 

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