Schools can’t Charge Students for Unused Facilities, as they have saved Operational Costs during Lockdown: Supreme Court
Fact and Issue of the case
In the first set of appeals, the appellants (Management(s) of private unaided schools in the State of Rajasthan) had assailed the validity of the Rajasthan Schools (Regulation of Fee) Act, 2016, in particular Sections 3, 4, 6 to 11, 15 and 16 and the Rules framed thereunder titled Rajasthan Schools (Regulation of Fee) Rules, 2017, in particular Rules 3, 4, 6 to 8 and 11 thereof being ultra vires the Constitution and abridge the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India.
In the second set of appeals, filed by the Management(s) of private unaided schools in the State of Rajasthan, emanate from the common judgment and order dated 18.12.2020 of the same High Court. In these appeals, the challenge is to the orders passed by the State Authorities on 09.04.2020, 07.07.2020 and 28.10.2020 regarding deferment of collection of school fees including reduction of fees limited to 70 per cent of tuition fees by schools affiliated with the Central Board of Secondary Education and 60 per cent from the schools affiliated with Rajasthan Board of Secondary Education, in view of reduction of syllabus by the respective Boards due to aftermath of pandemic (lockdown) from March 2020.
The issues involved in all these appeals concern around 36,000 private unaided schools including 220 minority private unaided schools in the State of Rajasthan governed by the provisions of the Act of 2016 referred to above. Accordingly, all these appeals were clubbed and heard analogously. However, as aforesaid, two broad issues would arise for our consideration.
Observation of the court
The court would have thought it appropriate to relegate the parties before the Regulatory Authority to refix the school fees for the academic year 2020-21 after taking into account all aspects of the matter including the advantage gained by the school Management due to unspent overheads/expenses in respect of facilities not availed by the students. However, that course can be obviated by the arrangement that court propose to direct in terms of this judgment. To avoid multiplicity of proceedings (as school fee structure is linked to school — school wise) including uncertainty of legal processes by over 36,000 schools in determination of annual fee structure for the academic year 202021, as a onetime measure to do complete justice between the parties, court propose to issue following directions:
(i) The appellants (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 year 2019-20, but by providing deduction of 15 per cent on that amount in lieu of unutilised facilities by the students during the relevant period of academic year 2020-21.
(ii) The amount so payable by the concerned students be paid in six equal monthly instalments before 05.08.2021 as noted in our order dated 08.02.2021.
(iii) 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.
(iv) 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 installments, referred to above, and shall not withhold the results of the examinations of any student on that account.
(v) 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.
(vi) The above arrangement will not affect collection of fees for the academic year 2021-22, as is payable by the students of the concerned school as and when it becomes due and payable.
(vii) The school Management shall not withhold the name of any student/candidate for the ensuing 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.
It is conscious of the fact that the court is issuing general uniform direction of deduction of 15 per cent of the annual school fees in lieu of unutilised facilities/activities and not on the basis of actual data school wise. As aforesaid, court has chosen to do so with a view to obviate avoidable litigation and to give finality to the issue of determination and collection of school fees for the academic year 202021, as a onetime measure which is the subject matter of these appeals. Court has consciously limited the quantum of deduction from annual school fees to 15 per cent although the school Management had mentioned about its willingness to provide 25 per cent scholarship to deserving students, as we have compelled the school Management to collect annual school fees for the academic year 202021 as was fixed for the academic year 2019-20 on which some of the school Management(s) could have legitimately asked for increase of at least 10 per cent in terms of Section 6(5) of the Act of 2016.
As court are disposing of the appeals in terms of this judgment, the contempt petition(s) filed before the High Court on the basis of impugned judgment also need to be disposed of. Accordingly, court deem it appropriate to dispose of all the contempt petition(s) initiated in reference to the impugned judgment, as the same is being overturned by this decision. While parting, court must note that the respondent State of Rajasthan has moved a formal application for recall/modification of direction given in clause (g) of the order of this Court dated 08.02.2021 — to ensure payment of outstanding dues towards unit cost payable to respective unaided schools within specified time. It is urged that due to complexity of facts, it was not possible to complete the process of computation before 31.03.2021. In the first place, there is no question of recall or modification of that direction. The court was conscious of the fact that that is not the subject matter of the appeals before this Court. Nevertheless, such direction was issued taking into account totality of the situation and to give relief to the private unaided schools by directing the State of Rajasthan to discharge its statutory obligation within specified time, of paying the outstanding dues of the concerned private unaided schools towards unit cost. Accordingly, court reiterate that direction but give further time to the State Government to complete the process of calculation and disbursal of the outstanding amount payable towards unit cost to the concerned unaided schools in the State of Rajasthan before the end of July 2021. The outstanding dues to be paid in terms of this direction would be obviously in respect of academic year up to 202021.
It must also be noted that court has not dilated on each of the reported decisions relied upon by the parties, as it is not necessary to do so for the view taken by us. For, there is nothing inconsistent in those decisions.
In view of the above, the court dispose of the case while allowing schools to charge 85% of the annual fees, the Court also directed that no student should be debarred from attending either online class ses or physical classes on account of non-payment of fees, arrears/outstanding fees including the installments,and shall not withhold the results of the examinations of any student on that account.
If any individual request is made by the parent/ward finding it difficult to remit annual fees for the academic year 2020-21, the school Management must consider such representation on case to case basis sympathetically. The school Management shall not withhold the name of any student/candidate for the ensuing Board examinations for Classes X and XII on the ground of nonpayment of fee/arrears for the academic year 2020-21, if any, on obtaining undertaking of the concerned parents/students.
Read the full court judgement from belowSchools-cant-Charge-Students-for-Unused-Facilities-as-they-have-saved-Operational-Costs-during-Lockdown-Supreme-Court