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Supreme Court directs private schools to charge 85% of fees due to facilities unutilised by students

It was clarified by the court that school managements should not debar any student from attending either online classes or physical classes on account of non-payment of fees.

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ILNS: The Supreme Court on Monday directed private unaided schools – specifically in Rajasthan – to charge 85% of the annual school fees of 2019-20 for the 2020-21 academic year. This reduction of 15% is in lieu of unutilised facilities by students as fixed under Rajasthan Schools (Regulation of Fee) Act, 2016.

A bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari was hearing appeals by school management boards challenging the constitutional validity of the 2016 Act and the Rajasthan Schools (Regulation of Fee) Rules, 2017.

Managements of private schools had approached the apex court, challenging the government orders which were upheld by the high court, regarding the deferment of collection of school fees, including limiting fees to 70 percent of tuition fees by schools affiliated with the Central Board of Secondary Education and 60 percent from the schools affiliated with Rajasthan Board of Secondary Education.

Justice Khanwilkar noted in the verdict: “Undeniably, an unprecedented situation has evolved on account of a complete lockdown due to pandemic. It had serious effect on the individuals, entrepreneurs, industries and the nation as a whole including in the matter of economy and purchasing capacity of one and all.

“A large number of people have lost their jobs and livelihood as aftermath of such economic upheaval. The parents who were under severe stress and even unable to manage their day to day affairs and the basic need of their family made fervent representation to the school Management(s) across the State,” the judge noted.

It was clarified by the court that school managements should not debar any student from attending either online classes or physical classes on account of non-payment of fees, arrears/outstanding fees, including installments, referred to above, and should not withhold the results of examinations of any student on that account.

Further, parents could deposit the fees in six instalments before August 5 this year as per the interim order and schools could individually give more concessions based on specific requests by parents, said the Court.

The bench held that the Disaster Management Act, 2005 cannot be used by state authorities to issues directions to private parties on economics aspects relating to subsisting contracts.

“The measures enunciated in Section 4 of the Act of 2020 in no way deal with the ‘tariffs’ of air, rail, road, hospital, temporary accommodation. It only enables the authority to prohibit any usage or activities which the Government considers sufficient to spread or transmit epidemic diseases and for that purpose to inspect various places suspected of being infected with such diseases.”

“Indeed, it can regulate or restrict the functioning of offices, government and private and educational institutions in the state. That, however, would be only in respect of manner of its use and its timings including to observe standard operating procedures to ensure that epidemic diseases do not transmit or spread on account of activities carried out therein,” reads the order.

The Court issued the following directions:

(i) The appellants (school Management of the concerned private unaided school) shall collect annual school fees from their students as fixed under the Act of 2016 for the academic year 2019­20, but by providing deduction of 15 per cent on that amount in lieu of unutilised facilities by the students during the relevant period of academic year 2020­21.
(ii) The amount so payable by the concerned students be paid in six equal monthly instalments before 05.08.2021 as noted in our order dated 08.02.2021.
(iii) Regardless of the above, it will be open to the appellants (concerned schools) to give further concession to their students or to evolve a different pattern for giving concession.
(iv) The school Management shall not debar any student from attending either online classes or physical classes on account of non­payment of fees, arrears/outstanding fees including the instalments, and shall not withhold the results of the examinations of any student on that account.
(v) If any individual request is made by the parent ward finding it difficult to remit annual fees for the academic year 2020­21 in the above terms, the school Management to consider such representation on case­ to­ case basis sympathetically.
(vi) The above arrangement will not affect collection of fees for the academic year 2021­22, as is payable by the students of the concerned school as and when it becomes due and payable.

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(vii) The school Management shall not withhold the name of any student/candidate for the ensuing Board examinations for Classes X and XII on the ground of non­payment of fee/arrears for the academic year 2020­21, if any, on obtaining undertaking of the concerned parents/students.

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