Parents in Delhi must now pay school fees for 2020-21: here’s what High Court said

The academic year 2020-21 is over, but schools can collect fees retrospectively in six monthly instalments beginning June 10. This will also apply to students who were in Class 12, and are now awaiting a decision on their Board exams. However, a 15 per cent deduction has been allowed, because schools have saved some money on electricity and water bills.

The Delhi High Court on Monday said that private unaided schools in the national capital can collect annual school fees from their students as fixed earlier, with a deduction of 15 per cent in lieu of unutilised facilities during the lockdown period.

This High Court’s judgment brings about a big change in the school fee collection system. Due to the financial distress faced by parents, schools had so far been permitted to collect only tuition fees on a monthly basis for the academic year 2020-21.

What was the fee collection system during the previous year (2020-21)?

Last April, in the early days of the 2020 national lockdown, the Delhi government had issued an order stating that “No fee, except tuition fee, will be charged from parents during the lockdown period.”

The tuition fees were to be collected on a monthly basis, as opposed to lumpsum quarterly or annual demands.

The order said: “Annual and Development charges can be charged from the parents, on pro-rata basis, only on monthly basis after completion of lockdown period.”

Thereafter, in August, as a phased ‘unlock’ took place in the city, many schools began to collect annual and developmental fees on a pro-rata basis. However, the government doubled down on its April order on the ground that students had still not gone back to class in person, and that schools were still physically shut.

It stated that restrictions in fee collection would continue to stand, because “unlocking stage is still going on in phase manner hence, complete lockdown is yet to be over and schools are yet to be open for physical classroom learning”.

These have remained the standing orders from the government. No fresh directives were issued after this.

What changes now for parents and schools with the High Court’s judgment?

In quashing the April and August 2020 orders of the Delhi government, the High Court has followed the Supreme Court court verdict in ‘Indian School, Jodhpur & Anr. vs. State of Rajasthan & Ors’.

Schools can now collect the annual fees for the academic year 2020-21, as fixed and approved, with a 15 per cent deduction.

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The fees can be collected by schools retrospectively, since the academic year 2020-21 is over. The amount payable by students will be paid in six monthly instalments with effect from June 10.

This will apply to all students who attended school in the last academic year, including those who are awaiting a decision on their Class 12 Board exams.

So how much exactly do parents have to pay now?

Tuition fees make up only one part of the overall fees charged by a school. Annual charges are levied under two other major heads: on account of administrative and general expenses — rents, rates and taxes; electricity and water charges; payments to teaching and non-teaching staff; repairs & maintenance; interest on loans — and annual changes for furniture, computers, projectors, smart boards, fans and lights, fire safety equipment, etc.

For example, at Somerville Vasundhara Enclave, the monthly tuition fee for students from Classes 7 to 12 is Rs 7,300, the annual charges are Rs 9,000, and the development fee is Rs 8,500.

At DPS R K Puram, the monthly tuition fee for Classes 6 and 7 is Rs 9,100, and the overall annual charges are Rs 30,365.

How did the matter reach the court, and what did the court say?

Various school associations and school management societies had moved to the High Court. The judgment by Justice Jayant Nath said:

“The private recognized unaided schools are clearly dependent only on the fees collected to cover their salary, establishment and all other expenditure on the schools. 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.”

On the expenses borne by schools even as they remained physically closed, the judgment stated: “The issue that arises is that the schools are not physically open, can it be said that the expenses under the above heads are not being incurred by the private unaided recognized schools?

“In my opinion, a bare perusal of the heads of expenses 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 fixtures 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.

“Further, it cannot be said that the school building is completely shut. The building would remain functional for administrative reasons and even, depending on facts and circumstances of the case, for conducting online classes, etc.,” the order said.

So why has the schools’ claim been reduced by 15 per cent?

The 15 per cent deduction is based on the observation that schools have made some savings in the absence of physical re-opening, such as the expenses on water, electricity, and stationery.

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