The high court quashed the office orders of April and August 2020 issued by the Directorate of Education (DoE) of the Delhi government forbidding and postponing collection of annual charges and development fees, saying they were “illegal” and “ultra vires the powers of the respondent (DoE) stipulated under the Delhi School Education (DSE) Act and the Rules.
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Justice Jayant Nath, however, noted that schools are saving some money on account of the fact that they are physically shut and said that the Supreme Court’s direction — in Indian School, Jodhpur vs. State of Rajasthan — that schools shall collect annual fees with a deduction of 15 per cent shall apply in the instant case.
The apex court had said that the deduction would be in lieu of unutilised facilities by the students during the relevant period of the academic year 2020-21.
The high court said that the apex court’s other directions, except for one, would also apply in the instant case.
The one direction that the high court modified was with regard to the time limit set for payment of the fees by students, as the apex court in the Indian School matter had said that the amounts have to be paid in six equal monthly instalments before August 5.
The high court said the amounts payable by the students have to be paid in six monthly installments from June 10.
The other directions of the apex court were — it would be open to the schools to give further concession to their students or to evolve a different pattern for giving concession, management shall not debar any student from attending online classes or physical classes or withhold exam results on account of non-payment of fees and students name for Board exams shall also not be withheld over non-payment of fees/arrears.
Besides that the apex court had also said that if any student or parent finds it difficult to pay annual fees for the year 2020-21 according to these terms and a request is made for any concession, the same be considered sympathetically on a case-to-case basis.
The top court had also said that this 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”.
These directions of the apex court were incorporated by the high court in its 45-page judgement delivered on the plea moved by Action Committee Unaided Recognized Private Schools, which represents 450 private unaided schools, through advocate Kamal Gupta.
The organisation had challenged the two office orders of April and August last year of the DoE on the ground that they curtail the rights of the private unaided recognized schools to fix their own fees.
The petitioner organisation had also contended that to restrict the collection of fee to certain heads/amounts was illegal and without any authority or jurisdiction.
It had also said that the DoE has limited jurisdiction to regulate the fees, that too only to prevent commercialization and profiteering.
Agreeing with the schools’ contentions, the high court said that the private recognized unaided schools were “clearly dependent only on the fees collected to cover their salary, establishment and all other expenditure”.
“Any regulations or order which seek to restrict or in-definitely postpone their powers to collect normal and usual fees as is sought to be done by the impugned orders is bound to create grave financial prejudice and harm to the schools,” it said.
The high court further said that the scope of power and authority of the DoE to interfere with the fixation and collection of fees by unaided educational institutions was well defined.
“The DoE does exercise control for the purpose of prevention of commercialisation of education by such unaided institutions only. It is to ensure that a recognized unaided school does not indulge in collection of capitation fees or profiteering.
‘Generating a reasonable surplus to augment its facilities and for other such purposes is a legitimate act which cannot be faulted with. Schools have complete autonomy in the matter of fixation of their fees. Such schools have the power to fix just school fees,” the high court said.
It added that the power of the DoE was for prevention of commercialisation of education.
“Clearly in the absence of a finding of commercialisation of education or exploitation the DoE cannot indefinitely cut down the established fees or restrain a said school from collecting a portion of the existing fees,” the high court said.