Chandigarh: The Punjab and Haryana High Court Tuesday allowed private schools in Punjab to collect tuition fee, annual charges and admission fee from students even while the schools are closed following the Covid-19 lockdown.
The judgment also says schools can charge tuition fees even if they have not conducted any online class for their students during the lockdown period.
Government and private schools in the state have been closed since the last week of March when the lockdown was first enforced following the Covid-19 outbreak. According to fresh instructions issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs Monday, schools will continue to remain closed until 31 July.
Taking up a host of petitions filed both by associations of private schools and parents, Justice Nirmaljit Kaur ruled that the schools are permitted to collect fees.
She said all schools, whether they offer online classes during the lockdown period or not, are entitled to collect the tuition fee. However, the court ruled, the schools will continue to endeavour and impart online/ distance learning so education is not adversely impacted due to the present or future lockdowns imposed due to the pandemic.
Recover only actual expenditure: Court to schools
In her detailed ruling, the judge said the management of each school shall work out actual expenditure incurred under the annual charges for the period the school remained closed and recover only such genuine expenditure incurred by them, including actual transport charges and actual building charges, but shall not recover any charge for this period for any activity or facility towards which no expenditure was incurred.
The court said the schools shall restrain themselves for the reasons, as mentioned above, from increasing the fee for the year 2020-21 and continue with the same fee structure as of 2019-20.
Any parent not able to pay the school fee on the above terms can file an application along with necessary proof about their financial status, the court said. The schools were instructed to look into these applications sympathetically, and “give concession or exempt the entire fee, as the case may be”.
The court also allowed the schools to move a representation to the district education officer concerned, if they face a financial crunch because of not having charged the increased fee for 2020-21. The officer will look into the application, along with the proof of financial crunch submitted, and “pass appropriate orders within three weeks”, the judge said.
‘Will appeal against judgment’
Senior advocate Rajvinder Singh Bains, who represented a Rajpura-based parents’ association in the case, said the judgment lacked balance. “Firstly, why should schools which have not given any online education charge tuition fee from students? This judgment will in fact encourage schools which are imparting online education to stop it because in any case they are going to get the tuition fee.”
He added, “When no admissions have taken place due to the lockdown, why should schools charge admission fees? Students of old classes have been promoted to new classes automatically.”
Bains added that the recourse for aggrieved parents was a long winding one. “A parent who doesn’t have the means to pay fees will also not have money to pay for litigation fighting over the fees.”
Bains added that the judgment had not taken into account the economic impact of the lockdown on parents and the decreased capacity of families to pay school fees. He added that the parents’ association he was representing will be filing an in-house appeal against this judgment as soon as possible, seeking an immediate stay.
Harinder Pal Singh Ishar, another advocate who is also the convener of the Punjab School Parents Welfare League, told ThePrint that the judgment had allowed schools the discretion to calculate the annual charges themselves. “The judgment has not taken into account our contention that schools have been closed for several months now and are incurring only minimal charges. These need to be calculated independently and not by the school themselves,” he said.
Ishar, however, welcomed the ruling that schools cannot increase tuition fee and other charges. He said the league will also be moving an appeal against the judgment this week.
When contacted, Punjab Advocate General Atul Nanda said he was in talks with the school education minister to decide a further course of action.