Saturday, August 13, 2022

Supreme Court refuses to stay Delhi HC order permitting Delhi private schools to collect annual, development charges

The Supreme Court had been approached by the Delhi government after the High Court quashed Directorate of Education (DoE) orders issued in April and August last year.

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The Supreme Court on Monday declined to interfere in the order passed by Delhi High Court division bench which had in turn declined to stay the order of Single Judge which had quashed the government notification asking private unaided schools not to charge annual, development fees considering that they have such far reaching financial implications upon the private unaided schools of NCT of Delhi.

The three-judge bench led by Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice Aniruddha Bose stated that, “Considering the facts and circumstances, we are not inclined to interfere in the order passed by the High court wherein it has made clear that the appeal before the roster bench is pending. Dismissal of the Special Leave Petition is not an expression of the opinion on the correctness of the view expressed by the High court or the contentious views before us”

Vikas Singh, Senior Advocate who is also the President of SCBA appeared on behalf Directorate of Education, Government of NCT and argued that the Judgement Indian School, Jodhpur & Anr. Vs. State of Rajasthan (2021) SCC Online SC 359 is not maintainable herein. He highlighted following grounds in regard with the concerned judgment in High Court as well-

– That the decision of the Supreme Court, in that case, to overturn the directions of the Rajasthan High Court came after it had noticed that the affected schools had already been partially re-opened for the students of Classes IX to XII which merited the collection of applicable fees. He submits that in the present case, neither have these schools seen any kind of re-opening, nor are they concerned with the tuition fee – the matter pertains to Annual Charges and Development Fee.

– That the decision of the Supreme Court in the Rajasthan Judgement was made in exercise of jurisdiction under Article 142 of the Constitution of India – which power was not available with the learned Single Judge while passing the challenged judgment. He, therefore, argued that the judgment is liable to be set aside on this ground alone.

– That there were enough funds available with the schools to bear the burden of any development charges or recurring charges payable by them, which may possibly have been reduced after the schools had closed on account of the pandemic with effect from March 2021.

Senior Counsel, Shyam Divan appeared on behalf of “Action Committee Unaided Recognized Private Schools” and submitted that the Directorate of Education had no power to interject or interfere in private contracts executed between the parents of the students and the schools, by directing the private, unaided schools to indefinitely postpone collection of Annual Charges and Development Fee.

The Delhi High court Single Judge had held that, “No doubt, the statute vests the Directorate with supervisory power to ensure that these private schools, chosen by students and their parents out of their own volition for the purpose of admission, do not indulge in commercialization and profiteering, however this right is salutary in nature and does not give any license to the Directorate to pass directions that it perceives would be in public interest, without any basis therefore.”

The High Court quashed the circulars issued by Directorate of Education of Delhi Government forbidding and postponing the collection of annual and development fees by calling it illegal and ultra vires the power of Directorate of Education stipulated under DSE acts and rules.

Further the High Court observed that, “The managements of these unaided, private schools in the city, which do not receive any aid from the GNCTD and are solely dependent on the fee collected by them, would also need funds to sustain their operations and premises and continue imparting education online. Given the terrible exigencies of the pandemic, we have been forced to embrace new models for our institutions and virtual classes are our sole way of ensuring that the nation’s children are being educated.”

The Delhi High Court had listed the applications before the roster bench on 12th July 2021.

The Directorate of Education, Government of NCT had filed Letters Patent appeal in Delhi High court against the order of Single Judge which was filed by Action Committee Unaided Recognized Private Schools that comprises of 450 private unaided schools in the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi seeking quashing of the circulars issued by Directorate of Education, GNCTD by holding that the direction to postpone the collection of Annual Charges and Development Fee from students until normal functioning of schools is resumed which is illegal and ultra vires the powers of the Directorate of Education under the Delhi School Education Act, 1973and the Delhi School Education Rules,1973.

The Single Judge while passing the order referred the judgement passed by Supreme Court recently in another case titled Indian School, Jodhpur & Anr. vs. State of Rajasthan & Ors. (supra) in which the Apex Court had passed following directions in regard with the fees-

1.   The 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 year2019-20, but by providing deduction of 15 percent on that amount in lieu of unutilised facilities by the students during the relevant period of academic year 2020-21.

2.   The amount so payable by the concerned students be paid in six equal monthly instalments before 05.08.2021 as noted in our order dated08.02.2021.

3.   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 over and above those noted in clauses (i) and (ii) above

4.   The school Management shall not debar any student from attending either online classes or physical classes on account of non-payment of fees, arrears/ outstanding fees including the instalments, referred to above, and shall not withhold the results of the examinations of any student on that account.

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5.   If any individual request is made by the parent/ward finding it difficult to remit annual fees for the academic year 2020-21 in the above terms, the school Management to consider such representation on case-to-case basis sympathetically.

6.   The above arrangement will not affect collection of fees for the academic year 2021-22,as is payable by students of the concerned school as and when it becomes due and payable.

7.   The school Management shall not withhold the name of any student/candidate for the ensuring Board examinations for Classes X and XII on the ground of non-payment of fee/arrears for the academic year 2020-21, if any, on obtaining undertaking of the concerned parents/students.

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