A plea has been filed in the Supreme Court by the parents of children from different States seeking declaration of moratorium or deferment of payment of school fees during the COVID-19 induced lockdown.
The plea also seeks direction to Centre and all the States for directing all the private unaided/aided schools to only charge the proportionate fees based on actual expenditure towards the conduct of the online virtual classes and no other fees from the students since April 1 till the commencement of physical classes.
"The Petitioners belonging to different states of the country have come together being constrained to approach this Court seeking inter alia the protection of fundamental right to life as well as education guaranteed under the Constitution of India, 1950 which the children & students enrolled up to the Class XII of various Indian states are being deprived of due to supervening factors namely, the ongoing pandemic- COVID-19 period," the plea said.
It said that due to COVID-19 induced lockdown, financially incapacitated parents have to bear the brunt of the fees of the children, even after being faced with constant financial and emotional hardships which may leave a few of them with no option but to withdraw their children or students from seeking institutional/school education for an unforeseeable period of time.
"The Petitioners are also aggrieved apart from other issues as raised in the present petition by the unorganised and adversely influencing education imparted in the name of online classes, without addressing the supervening factors of incapacity of 25 per cent EWS category students, adverse impact of education of children of unregulated online education for students of Standard Nursery to 5th and for other students as well," the plea said.
The parents through the petition filed through advocate Mayank Kshirsagar and drawn by advocate Pankhuri said that they are highlighting various factors leading to creation of hostile discrimination of children and parents of various states in India as some protection may be available for children or students in some states and the same may not be available in other states.
Parents of the school going children who have moved the top court hail from Rajasthan, Odisha, Punjab, Gujarat, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Delhi and Maharashtra.
In their plea they said that considering the adverse impact of online education, ban has been imposed by Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh while other States have not considered its impact.
It said that after COVID-19 disease was declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organization, on March 25, 2020, a country wide lockdown was announced whereby all the activities including the educational sector were shut down completely having a catastrophic effect over the economy of the country with many people losing their jobs or getting a deducted or nil income and facing immense sufferings in their daily life.
"The school going children and students were unable to attend the physical classes at their respective schools. Some of the private aided/unaided schools made arrangements for online classes in April, 2020 however the same has not been universally made available and even cases where no online classes are being conducted the schools are charging normal fees and rather some schools have hiked the fees," the plea said.
It added that many of the schools hiked their fees and/or started harassing the students' parents to pay the entire quarterly fees in advance despite the non-functioning of the schools and the students not availing any of the services provided by the schools.
The petition said that despite circulars issued by various States asking private aided/unaided schools ought not to hike their fees in the times of the pandemic, no substantial relief in the form of waiver of fees, or reduced fees, or proportionate fees as per actual expenditure etc. was granted to the students in most of the states, leaving their parents with a huge financial burden to bear, impliedly resulting in the student's right to life and education getting infringed and violated.
"It is further noteworthy that no specific provision/direction was issued by various states as mentioned with regard to the 25 per cent economically and socially backward/weaker students under the RTE Act, 2009," it said.
The plea sought directions to Centre and all the States for directing all the private unaided/aided schools to not charge any fees whatsoever from the enrolled students of such schools for a period of three months starting from April 1 till July 1 or till the commencement of offline/physical school classes.
It also sought directions to Centre and all the States for directing schools to only charge the proportionate fees based on actual expenditure towards the conduct of the online virtual classes and no other fees whatsoever from the enrolled students of such schools since April 1 till the commencement of offline/physical school classes.
The petition said that direction be issued to schools to only charge the 'tuition fees' and no other fees whatsoever from the enrolled students since April 1 till physical classes resumes.