Punjab and Haryana High Court: While deciding the instant petitions filed by the several unaided private schools and educational institutions, all of which challenged the directions issued by the Director, School Education, wherein the schools were required to not charge any tuition fee for the lockdown period; Nirmaljit Kaur, J., held that direction to the privately unaided Institutions who are not giving online classes not to charge tuition fee for the lockdown/curfew period is discriminatory and arbitrary, as there is no rationale in laying down such a classification especially when the obligations and basic expenses of all private un-aided schools remain the same irrespective of whether they are conducting online classes or not.
The petitions challenged the DSE Memo dated 14-05-2020. Apart from the aforementioned direction regarding tuition fee, the Memo also directed the schools to not increase the school fees for the 2020-21 Session and not to remove any teacher or reduce their salaries. The counsels for the petitioners raised questions on the authority of the State Government to issue such Memo and argued that the Directions were arbitrary and defy any logic. They contended that it is an inherent right of a private school to generate funds for their functioning and financial obligations including salaries of the teaching and non teaching staff. For the respondents, Advocate General Atul Nanda argued that Article 162 empowers the State to issue directions on matters enumerated in List II of State List of the Seventh Schedule, which also extends to List III-Concurrent List, except as provided in the Constitution itself or in any law passed by the Parliament. The respondents further argued that policy decisions cannot be tested under Article 226 of the Constitution.
They further contended that the petitioners do not have a uniform fee structure and the breakup of school fee and expenses for each school also differ. R.S. Bains, counsel for the parents who had been impleaded as party respondents, submitted that the parents should not be made to pay for the services which have not been rendered, especially when either some of the schools did not offer online services or because they reside in remote areas where the online facilities are not available.
Perusing the contentions of the parties, the Bench deemed it fit to lay down the following guidelines regarding the issue-
- The schools can collect the admission fees. All schools irrespective whether they offered online classes during the lock-down period or not, are entitled to collect the tuition fee. However, they will continue to endeavour and impart online/ distance learning so that education is not adversely impacted due to the present or future lockdowns imposed due to COVID-19.
- The school management of each school shall work out their actual expenditure incurred under the annual charges for the period the school remained closed and recover only such genuine expenditure incurred by them.
- The schools shall restrain themselves from increasing the fee for the year 2020-21 and adopt the same fee structure as of session 2019- 20.
- Any parent not able to pay the school fee may file their application along with necessary proof about their financial status, which shall be looked into by the school authority sympathetically for concession or exemption of the entire fee as the case may be. In case the grievances of the parents are not resolved, then they may approach the Regulatory Body constituted under Section 7 of Punjab Regulation of fee of Un-aided Educational Institutions Act, 2016
- In case any school is facing a financial crunch for not having charged the increased fee for the year 2020-21, may move a representation to the District Education Officer along with proof of the same, who shall look into it and pass appropriate orders within three weeks of the receipt of such an application.
[Independent Schools’ Association Chandigarh v. State of Punjab, 2020 SCC OnLine P&H 847 , decided on 30-06-2020]