HP HC | [School fee Payment] Private schools can charge tuition fee; Government notification making payment optional in wake of COVID is “Unreasonable”

Himachal Pradesh High Court: A Division Bench of Tarlok Singh Chauhan and Jyotsna Rewal Dua JJ. disposed off the writ petition in light of settled law regarding the scope of regulation of schools by the Government.

The facts of the case are that a government notification dated 27-05-2020 was issued regarding the collection of school fee in the wake of COVID-19 which included mainly to only charge tuition fee on a monthly basis, payment of which is optional, no fine chargeable and no restriction on attending online classes on delay of fee payment along with timely payment of salaries to teachers without any pay cuts. Aggrieved by the said notification registered association of 45 private schools have preferred the instant petition to quash the said notification being unreasonable and oppressive.

Counsel for the petitioners R. K. Gautam and Radhika Gautam, relying on the Supreme Court decision in  T.M.A. Pai Foundation v. State of Karnataka, (2002) 8 SCC 481 and P.A. Inamdar v. State of Maharashtra, (2005) 6 SCC 537 submitted that any action of the State Government seeking to regulate or control admissions including interference in the fee structure of private unaided educational institutes will constitute a serious encroachment on the right and autonomy and liable to be struck down.

Counsel for the respondents Ashok Sharma, Ranjan Sharma, Vinod Thakur and Seema Sharma submitted that the notification in question has only deferred the collection of some fees and charges usually levied by the schools, while permitting them to collect only the tuition fee during the lockdown period and hence the State Government has not encroached on any right by private schools.

The Court on hearing the submissions of both sides held that while directing the private schools to neither stop payment of monthly salary nor reduce the existing total emoluments being paid to their teaching and non-teaching staff but at the same time permitting the schools to collect only the tuition fee, that too on monthly basis without authorizing them to compulsorily realize even this tuition fee is an unreasonable restriction. It was further observed that the impugned notifications were issued by the State Government practically in a state of emergency therefore perhaps principles of natural justice were not complied before their issuance. Hence in light of the observations and authoritative pronouncements stated above, the Court directed the State Government to revisit and reexamine the notification.

The Court also directed that in case of exceptional financial hardship reported by any parent, the school authority concerned must examine the situation within a week on compassionate grounds and ensure proper attendance of teaching & non-teaching staff and impart quality online education to the students.

In view of the above, impugned notification is quashed and petition disposed off.[Independent Schools Association v. State of Himachal Pradesh,  2020 SCC OnLine HP 1267, decided on 24-08-2020]


*Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has put this story together

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