The Supreme Court on Friday stated that minority educational institutions are not immune from exercises undertaken by the admission and fee regulatory committees.
The bench of Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjay Kumar stated that “the appellant society must necessarily submit the fees proposed by it in respect of the professional courses offered through its institutions to the AFRC for the purpose of review and regulation, as per the provisions of Section 9 of the Act of 2007.”
In this case, Icon Education Society, (appellant), maintains and manages two unaided educational institutions at Indore, viz., Indore Institute of Law and Indore Nursing College. Both these institutions qualify as ‘minority educational institutions’ under Section 2(g) of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions Act, 2004.
While so, by letter, the Admission and Fee Regulatory Committee, constituted under Section 4 of the Act of 2007, called upon the Indore Institute of Law to submit its proposal for the regulation of the fees pertaining to law courses offered by it.
This was followed up by a reminder which was addressed to all private law colleges in the State of Madhya Pradesh. The appellant society addressed a reply stating that the AFRC was not empowered to regulate the fees charged by minority educational institutions and requesting that the notices issued may be withdrawn or cancelled.
The AFRC responded, vide letter stating that a decision had been taken in the meeting held on 08.11.2019 that the fees of minority institutions should be fixed by the AFRC. The appellant society was accordingly informed that its request for relaxation from getting the fees fixed by the AFRC was rejected.
Aggrieved thereby, the appellant society preferred an appeal under Section 10 of the Act of 2007 before the designated authority. The appeal was dismissed by the appellate authority, holding that the procedure of regulating/fixing of fee was common to both minority and nonminority institutions. The review/recall petition preferred by the appellant society was dismissed with costs by the appellate authority.
The issue for consideration before the bench was:
Whether a minority educational institution in the State of Madhya Pradesh is required to get the fees charged by it fixed by the Admission and Fee Regulatory Committee under the provisions of the Madhya Pradesh Niji Vyavsayik Shikshan Sanstha (Pravesh Ka Viniyaman Avam Shulk Ka Nirdharan) Adhiniyam, 2007?
Supreme Court referred to the case of T.M.A. Pai Foundation and others v. State of Karnataka and others where the majority opinion voiced by B.N.Kirpal CJ, speaking for himself and five other learned Judges, answered the question as to whether statutory provisions regulating facets of administration of educational agencies, including regulation of fees, would interfere with the right of administration by minorities in the negative, but held that such regulatory measures should be minimal in the case of unaided minority educational institutions. As regards the fees to be charged by unaided institutions, it was held that the same could not be regulated but no institution should charge a capitation fee.
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The bench stated that “………………..the AFRC which is set up for that purpose is discharging only a regulatory function, as the fee which a particular educational institution seeks to charge from its students has to be suggested by the said educational institution itself and the AFRC is empowered to satisfy itself that the fee proposed by the educational institution did not amount to profiteering or commercialization of education and was based on the intelligible factors mentioned in Section 9(1) of the Act of 2007. This Court, therefore, concluded that it was only a regulatory measure and did not take away the power of the educational institutions to fix their own fees……………”
Supreme Court observed that as matters stand, the Act of 2007 has been interpreted to mean that the AFRC, constituted thereunder, exercises only the power of ‘regulation’ in respect of the fees proposed by the institution, conditioned by the parameters in Section 9(1) of the Act of 2007. In effect, the liberty given to unaided institutions to propose the fees that they wish to charge, keeping in mind the factors set out in Section 9(1) of the Act of 2007, stands protected and it is only by way of regulating the fees so proposed that the AFRC would exercise the power of reviewing the proposed fees, after giving due opportunity of hearing to the educational institution concerned.
The bench opined that the contrary stand taken by the AFRC, as is evident from its communications to the appellant society, therefore cannot be countenanced. It is not open to the AFRC to seek to unilaterally fix the fees to be charged by the appellant society for the professional courses offered through its educational institutions. At the same time, it is not open to the appellant society to claim complete immunity in undertaking this exercise and seek exemption from any interference by the AFRC.
Supreme Court stated that the appellant society must necessarily submit the fees proposed by it in respect of the professional courses offered through its institutions to the AFRC for the purpose of review and regulation, as per the provisions of Section 9 of the Act of 2007.
In view of the above, the bench disposed of the appeal.
Case Title: Icon Education Society v. State of Madhya Pradesh & Ors.
Bench: Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjay Kumar
Case No.: SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION (C) NO. 4006 OF 2021
Counsel for the appellant: Mr. Dama Seshadri Naidu
Counsel for the respondent: Mr. P.V. Yogeshwaran