Gujarat HC sets aside State Government Resolution which restrained the collection of fees from school students due to the Pandemic
The Gujarat High Court (HC) on 31st July, 2020, set aside a State Government Resolution, stopping the collection of tuition fees from school students while schools remain physically shut amid the COVID-19 pandemic (Nareshbhai Kanubhai Shah v. State of Gujarat).
Facts of the Case:-
- The petitioner is an association of unaided schools imparting pre-primary, primary, secondary and higher secondary education within the State of Gujarat.
- It is registered as a public charitable trust and is concerned with the interest of self financed schools within the State of Gujarat who are its members.
- The members of the petitioners have established and are managing unaided schools in the State of Gujarat, which schools are affiliated to the State Board, Central Board for Secondary Education, Indian Council for Secondary Education, and international Boards.
- The State of Gujarat has enacted the Gujarat Self Financed School (Regulation of Fees) Act, 2017 and the Gujarat Self Financed School (Regulation of Fees) Rules, 2017. The said Act is for fixing of fees in Unaided Schools situated within the State of Gujarat.
- According to the July 16 government resolution passed by the education department, private schools in the state cannot charge any kind of fee from students for tuition or other co-curricular activities as long as the schools are closed and cannot hike fee for academic session of 2020-2021.
- Thus, the federation of self-financed schools seeks to challenge the legality and validity of the Government Resolution dated 16th July 2020 declaring that having regard to the current pandemic situation, no fees shall be charged by any unaided schools either towards the tuition fees or in relation to any optional activity so long as the schools are being conducted online.
- The Government Resolution further provides that the fees, if already paid, shall be adjusted against the fees which would become payable upon the physical opening of the schools.
Submissions by the Petitioner
- It has been submitted on behalf of the federation that the resolution is without jurisdiction and has been issued in colourable exercise of powers.
- It is further submitted that neither under the Disaster Management Act, the School Fee Act, 2007 nor under any other law, the State Government has the authority or competence to issue the impugned resolution.
- The sum and the substance or rather the principal argument of the learned senior counsel is that the right to set up a reasonable fee structure is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India.
Opinion of the High Court on Importance of Online Classes
- The pandemic has brought about not only a massive healthcare crisis but also economic instability. Thousands have lost their jobs and thousands others are working on salary cuts.
- It is understood that schools need a certain amount of money to function and pay their staff salaries but it is also important to remember that not all families are financially stable at the moment.
- Keeping in mind the current situation, a balance has to be struck between providing children a reasonable education and allowing the schools to stay afloat.
- For the safety and wellbeing of our children, education must continue to be delivered remotely.
- We do not have an alternate education system in place that can be implemented during a public health crisis. Hence, the schools and teachers across the country are working very hard to redesign the current system to fit the needs of their students.
- Managing the education of students remotely by conducting online classes is a tedious job. As individuals, their efforts and hardwork shouldn’t be ignored. As professionals, they must be paid for their time and service justly.
- Thus, it is acceptable for the schools to charge a reasonable tuition fee to the parents for the online classes they conduct. All the other overhead fees for bus service, sports and recreation should be avoided.
- This seems like the only reasonable arrangement during the crisis. The top priority of both parents and the school is the children. Missing school for a long period of time can have significant impacts on the cognitive and social development of the child.
- Therefore, parents must also acknowledge that online education of their child is not a futile effort on the part of the schools and schools need to be paid appropriately for their service
Opinion of the High Court on Economic difficulties faces by students and their families
- Schools on the other hand must be conscious of the economic instability faced by their students’ families. Many parents have been laid off from their jobs or are working on severe salary cuts and it would be unfair for them to be paying for suspended school services (like bus, sports, activities, stationary etc).
- Given the current situation we are in, the schools might have to adopt a non profit outlook for the next few months. Schools must also be compassionate towards the struggles of their students’ families.
- They should allow fees to be paid on a monthly basis or in installments so less burden is exerted on the parents. A flexible method of payment might encourage financially struggling families to keep their child’s education going, instead of pulling him out of school.
The State Government as well the federation of the unaided private schools should bear in mind the following points for arriving at an amicable solution are as under:
- In such circumstances, HC quashed and set aside Clause 4.1, 4.3 and 4.4 of the impugned Government Resolution.
- HC requested the State Government to once again convene a meeting with the office bearers of the association of unaided private schools and try to arrive at some understanding which is equitable in nature.
- In other words, the Government should make all possible endeavor to strike a balance so as to protect the interest of the parents as well as the management of the private unaided schools
- It would be too much to expect the private schools to not demand any fees. At the same time, HC expects the federation and the State Government to sit across the table for the purpose of arriving at some understanding with an open mind and open heart.
- In other words, both, the federation and the State Government should sit and talk with an open mind and open heart. Once all the issues are resolved amicably, the State Government shall issue a fresh Government Resolution in this regard.
HC hoped that the State Government and the association of unaided private schools would be able to reach to an amicable understanding.