Rajasthan High Court has granted relief to the Private Schools to collect tuition from students, during the pandemic period. The Association of Private Schools challenged the orders passed by the State Government dated 9.4.2020 and 7.7.2020, whereby schools were restrained from collecting tuition fee amidst pandemic.
Earlier on 09.4.2020, during the peak of Lockdown-1, in the same matter, the Court issued following directions for Private Schools:
- After 15th March 2020, for three months the collection of all outstanding dues, current applicable fees and advance fees shall be adjourned concerning all the students studying in non-governmental institutions. Contemporarily, names of the students should not be struck off for non-payment of such fees, studying in non-governmental institutions.
- The deferred fees could be indemnified for the session 2020-21 after the completion of the suspension period, in case the students continue education from the non-governmental institutions.
- In case, a student wants to obtain the transfer certificate after the consummation of the lockdown spell from such schools then the transfer certificate is to be equipped after the payment of the fees 2019-20 and thereafter, procuring no-dues certificate.
The Court vide its order dated 7.7.20 provided that the aforesaid guidelines will continue to operate and proffer till the State Government clutches any recommendation for the opening of schools.
The Private schools applied for interim relief before the High Court and submitted therein:
- That the authority and powers would be provided to the State Disaster Management Authorities by the Disaster Management Act, 2005 in order to take decisions for the policies and plans for the functioning of a state during a disaster.
- It was further pleaded that for almost long six months, there has already been shelving of the fees but even the schools require to maintain their infrastructures and pay salaries not only to the teaching but also to the non-teaching staff considering that everyone is facing hardships amidst the pandemic. Therefore, it should be permitted to at least charge the tuition fees from the students.
- In accordance with Rajasthan Non-Government Educational Institutions Act, 1989 and the rules addressed within, it is imperative for the institutions to regularly pay the staff even during the lockdown.
- It has been seen across that the state government has failed to keep a balance between the varied interests and consideration regarding the entire backing up of the financial strata of the schools which involve only through the particular source, i.e. tuition fees etc. meanwhile the students are being delivered education online with utmost interest by the teachers.
Opposing the Application, State submitted:
- That the schools are bound to provide free education up to elementary level under Right to Education Act, hence, the charges for the schools could only be charged when teachers are taking up the classes in the classrooms.
- Further, parents have been trying hard to meet the expectations of the online classes to help them aggravate their educational forum, even they have been deprived of salaries amidst the worldwide outbreak of the virus.
The Court at the interim stage directed “While there are myriad issues involved in the present batch of the writ petitions, which are required to be examined finally; at this interim stage, this Court finds that a balance is required to be struck between financial difficulty of the school management relating to release of the salary of the staff and minimum upkeep of school on one side and the financial pressure, which has come on the parents due to the pandemic and lockdown as noticed above.”
The Court took note of the fact that total infrastructure cost, which the school may incur for the regular studies during normal days have been definitely reduced, as day to day schools are not opening. It is noticed that the tuition fees is assessed on the basis of the infrastructure expenditure including staff salary and operation cost incurred by the schools in terms of the provisions of the Rajasthan Schools (Regulation of Fee) Act, 2016, after following the procedures laid down therein.
The Court agreed that while the institutes had to incur certain additional expenditure for developing online classes process, the same would be less than individual expenditure being incurred by the parents for providing infrastructure to their each ward, who is undergoing online classes at home. There may be also cases where the parents may have two or three children. To each one separate laptop or computer will be required to provide as all of them would be undergoing online classes at the same time. Thus, comparative balance is required to be maintained.
Considering the above issues, the Court as an interim measure, till the situation gets normal, issued the following directions:
- The school authorities will allow the students to continue their studies online and will enable them to deposit 70% of the tuition fees head from the total school fees being charged for the academic year.
- The said 70% of the tuition fees element shall be paid for the period from March 2020 in three instalments to the respective schools.
- However, it was made clear that in the event of non-payment of the said tution fees, the student(s) may not be allowed to join online classes, but they shall not be expelled from the school.
- The three instalments shall be fixed by depositing the first instalment on or before 30.9.2020 while the second instalment shall be paid by 30.11.2020 and the third instalment shall be paid by 31.1.2021.
The Court has also made it absolutely clear that the question regarding remaining fees shall be examined at the stage of final disposal of the writ petitions. The aforesaid order has been passed as interim arrangement subject to final adjudication of the case.