HC allows Delhi schools to collect fee, strikes down education dept order

Through the course of the past year, schools have been complaining that the limitation imposed on fee collection left them without enough resources to bear all the expenses of running their schools, even while physically closed. 

THE DELHI High Court Monday said the Delhi government has no power to indefinitely postpone the collection of annual charges and development fees by private schools, and permitted school to collect annual fee from their students with a deduction of 15 per cent on the total fee in lieu of unutilised facilities by students during the pandemic-induced lockdown.

“The amount payable by students concerned will be paid in six monthly installments w.e.f. 10.06.2021,” said Justice Jayant Nath in the order, while quashing the orders passed by the government on April 18 and August 28 last year with regard to collection of annual fee and development charges.

On April 18 last year, the education department permitted schools to collect only tuition fees during the lockdown period, and said the annual and development charges can be charged from parents but only on a monthly basis after the completion of the lockdown period.

On August 28, the government reiterated the April 18 order and clarified that no amount other than the tuition fee be collected from students.

The Action Committee Unaided Recognised Private Schools, which represents 450 private unaided schools in the national capital, had argued before the court that the orders curtail the rights of the educational institutions to fix their own fees, and the education department is being influenced by the dictates of the political establishment which aims to please the vote bank of parents.

The government argued that some schools were indulging in malpractices “which were inhuman in view of the outbreak of Covid”, and that the schools being charitable organisations cannot indulge in profeetering. The department of education (DOE) orders were passed to ameliorate the financial constraints being faced by parents during the pandemic, it was argued.

The court said the Directorate of Education does have the power to exercise control for the purposes of prevention of commercialisation of education, but other than that, schools have  complete autonomy in the matter of fixation of their fees.

“The power of the respondent DOE is for prevention of commercialisation of education. Clearly in the absence of a finding of commercialisation of education or exploitation, the respondent cannot indefinitely cut down the established fees or restrain a said school from collecting a portion of the existing fees,” said the court.

It also said that a bare perusal of the heads of expenses related to the charges “clearly demonstrates and shows” that most of the expenses are not correlated or connected with the actual physical opening of the schools for the students.

“Expenses like rents, taxes, travelling, conveyance, insurance charges, remuneration of auditors, repair and maintenance of building and maintenance of equipment, furniture and fixture are all expenses which will continue to be incurred by the schools irrespective of the physical shut down. In case the said repairs and expenses are not done, it is bound to cause damage to the building, infrastructure and functioning of the schools,” added the court.

The court also said that it cannot be said the school building is completely shut and noted that the building would remain functional for administrative reasons and even for conducting online classes. However, it accepted that expenses under heads like electricity, water and stationery will drop in the absence of actual full physical opening of the schools.

“There is no finding recorded by the impugned orders that the collection of annual charges and development fees tantamounts to profiteering or collection of capitation fees by private unaided recognised schools,” said the bench.

The court further said private schools are dependent only on the fees to cover their salary, establishment and other expenditures. “Any regulations or order which seek to restrict or indefinitely postpone their powers to collect normal and usual fees as is sought to be done by the impugned orders is bound to create grave financial prejudice and harm to the schools,” the judgment reads.

While disposing of the case, the court said the Supreme Court judgement in the case of Indian School, Jodhpur & Anr. vs. State of Rajasthan & Ors would apply to the schools of Delhi as well. The apex court verdict bars schools from stopping any student from attending the classes on account of non-payment of fees.

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