School fees: Can’t ignore acute financial pressure on parents due to COVID-19, Delhi govt to HC

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New Delhi, Jul 14 (PTI) The Delhi government Wednesday told the Delhi High Court that it was “improper and harsh” on the part of schools to run on commercial lines to recover fees when lot of children have lost their one or both parents during COVID-19 and became victim of job loss due to lockdown.

The Delhi government said these institutions are expected to extend maximum support in education so that the maximum students should have access to education by having convenient financial atmosphere through schools.

A bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh, after hearing arguments for hours, said it would continue hearing the submissions on Thursday.

The court was hearing various pleas by Delhi government, students and an NGO challenging a single judge order allowing private unaided schools to collect annual and development charges from students for the period after the lockdown ended in the national capital last year.

“Being regulator of the school education, appellant (Delhi government) cannot ignore the acute financial pressure and stress on general public where lot of children have lost their one or both parents or source of earning has depleted or the jobs and businesses have vanished due to lockdown in current COVID-19 pandemic which is continuing since March 2020,” Delhi government, represented through senior advocate Vikas Singh, said.

Singh said therefore, such an attempt of schools to run on commercial lines instead of being charitable in nature to recover amount on the presumption that normal physical functioning has resumed is “improper, harsh and unjustified”.

The senior advocate and Delhi government standing counsel Santosh Kumar Tripathi, argued that the single judge gravely erred in passing the directions on the basis of a Supreme Court order relating to collection of school fees.

The counsel said the single judge overlooked the fact the Supreme Court judgement pertained to the State of Rajasthan and imposition of tuition fee was for a time when schools had physically reopened there, which is not the case in Delhi.

Advocate Khagesh B Jha and Shikha Sharma Bagga, appearing on behalf of parents and NGO Justice For All, argued schools have been deliberately misreading the judgement of single judge and have been charging for meal, online swimming charges, or virtual Dubai tour.

“Why should a parent pay the price of apple if he is purchasing orange? Many students are being dropped out of school or seeking transfer from private to government schools because of threat from the schools, to pay those charges which were not been spent by the school in lockdown,” the counsel argued.

However, the counsel for the action committee had earlier said the single judge had rightly ruled that there was no allegation of schools indulging in profiteering in this case and in the absence of such allegation, there could be no interference by the Delhi government.

The high court had on June 7 issued notices and sought responses of the Action Committee Unaided Recognised Private Schools, which represents over 450 schools, on the appeals of AAP government, students and an NGO challenging the single judge’s May 31 order.

The division bench, however, had refused to stay the single judge’s order.

It had earlier recorded the statement made by senior advocate Shyam Divan and lawyer Kamal Gupta, representing the action committee that till the next date of hearing, they will continue to follow the existing principles in relation to collection of fees from students.

The Delhi government and the students and NGO ‘Justice for All’ have contended that the single judge's decision was based on incorrect facts and law.

The May 31 verdict had quashed two office orders of April and August last year 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 DoE stipulated under the Delhi School Education (DSE) Act and the Rules.

The single judge, in the May 31 order had said the Delhi government has no power to indefinitely postpone collection of annual charges and development fees by private unaided schools as it would unreasonably restrict their functioning.

The Delhi government has contended that its orders of April and August last year were issued in larger public interest as due to the COVID-19 lockdown people were in financial crisis.

The single judge verdict, passed on the plea by Action Committee Unaided Recognised Private Schools, said that schools shall collect annual fees with a deduction of 15 per cent as allowed by the apex court in the Indian School case.

It also said the amount payable by the students have to be paid in six monthly installments from June 10. PTI SKV SKV RKS RKS

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