Saturday, December 3, 2022

Unfair Hike?

Schools and parents are in a tussle over an increase in fees during the lockdown and a PIL has also been filed in the Delhi High Court in this regard. By Vedant Bhelonde

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The outbreak of the pandemic has increased the woes of the common man. On top of that, schools across the country have announced a fee hike along with transportation charges and said that if any parent fails to fulfil this demand, his ward would not be allowed to attend online classes being conducted now. Aggrieved over this, a group of parents started an online petition to the HRD ministry, demanding a directive to schools to not implement a fee hike at least till they reopen.

A parent whose son studies in a prominent school in Noida told India Legal: “Even as there is a question mark over when normalcy will return and I can get back to work, I received an intimation from the school regarding the fee hike. I don’t know how I will cope. The school said it was to meet the cost demands for the 2020-21 academic year.” 

It was the same story in Gurugram too. A parent told India Legal: “We understand that schools need to pay salaries and cannot waive fees but at least the hike could have been avoided at such a crucial time. Why has the government not passed any order in this regard?” Schools were closed by mid-March, ahead of the nationwide lockdown. As the lockdown got extended, many have begun teaching online.

Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and UP have announced that schools should not force parents to pay fees during the lockdown. But there is no clarity on whether no fees will be charged during the period or whether they will have to be paid later. Gujarat announced that private schools will not hike fees for a year, while West Bengal has appealed to schools to refrain from hiking them.

Schools say that classes are already being conducted online and they need to pay teachers as well. However, they have also levied charges such as for transport and miscellaneous activities such as swimming and horse riding which are not being conducted now.

But, parents in Gurugram and Noida got some respite. The Noida administration has ordered that no educational institution across Noida and Greater Noida can force parents regarding fees during the lockdown or bar pupils from attending online classes.

In Delhi, while several parents reached out to the government for a fee waiver, no decision has been taken yet. “We have been getting messages from parents that fees during the lockdown should be waived but schools ask how they will give salaries, which is also a genuine concern. It is a tricky situation. If anybody has concrete suggestions, we request them to share it with us,” Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia reportedly said during an online interaction with parents. Later, the Delhi government issued an order directing private schools not to charge any fee component other than tuition fees till the opening of the institution. It said that charging fees under the new heads was a violation of the directions of the SC and those of the Directorate of Education (DoE).

Meanwhile, advocate and activist Amit Sahni has filed a PIL in the Delhi High Court seeking relief for parents facing a financial crunch due to the lockdown. It asked the Delhi Government and DoE to issue directions to all schools under their jurisdiction not to charge school fees/charges from April 2020 till the school opened. It further sought directions to schools not to pressurise students in this regard. The plea asked the government to provide sufficient funds to schools to bear their liabilities, ie salary to staff or other expenses in order to strike a balance in the larger public interest. The plea further highlighted that Haryana had issued directions to all unaided/private schools not to pressurise students/parents to deposit fees/charges till they became operational and if they did so, strict action would be taken. The petitioner said Delhi had not issued any such directions.

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