Private unaided schools allotted land by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) cannot hike fees without the government’s permission, the Delhi high court ruled on Tuesday.
The verdict has implications for close to 400 private schools in the city, and comes as a major relief to thousands of parents forced to accept annual fee hikes they are rarely consulted on.
Declaring that “schools cannot indulge in profiteering and commercialisation of education”, a bench of chief justice G Rohini and justice Jayant Nath ordered the government’s directorate of education (DoE) to ensure these schools comply with the terms and conditions of their letter of allotment of land regarding fee hikes.
“Quantum of fees to be charged by unaided schools is subject to regulation by DoE… under the Delhi School Education Act, 1973 and he is competent to interfere if the fee hike by a particular school is found to be excessive and perceived as indulging in profiteering,” the court said.
It also directed the DDA to take action in accordance with the law against schools not following the fee fixation rules as per their letter of allotment.
Within hours of the high court order, SK Bhattacharya, president of the Action Committee of Unaided Private Schools, said, “We will soon file a special leave petition with the Supreme Court… as the judgment is against the spirit of the Constitution.”
Maintaining that the 1973 Act gives schools the autonomy to regulate their own fees, Bhattacharya added, “Further, the SC had said in a judgment that private schools enjoy full autonomy.”
There are close to 400 private unaided schools allotted government land in the city, counsel for petitioner NGO Justice for All, Khagesh Jha, said. According to the DoE website, the list includes Modern School (Barakhambha), DPS (RK Puram), Air Force Bal Bharti School (Lodhi Road), Amity International School (Saket), Sanskriti School (Chanakyapuri), Mirambika Free Progress School (Sri Aurobindo Ashram), Convent of Jesus and Mary (Bangla Sahib Marg), Ryan International School (Mayur Vihar) and Ahlcon International School (Patparganj).
“We cannot comment as we haven’t yet read the order. We will discuss the issue with our management and decide what to do about it,” said DR Saini, principal of DPS RK Puram.
Several other private schools HT spoke to also refused to comment as they weren’t yet aware of the court order.
Fee hike by private schools is a contentious issue in Delhi and often a subject of litigation. In 2011, the high court set up the justice (retd) Anil Dev Singh committee that identified hundreds of schools for collecting excess fee, and in its latest report last December ordered 53 of them to refund parents. It found these schools had failed to pay their teachers and staff salaries as per the Sixth Pay Commission’s recommendations despite charging hefty fees.
Jha said schools should fix fees on the basis of the paying capacity of residents of the locality for whose benefit public land was allotted. He contended before the high court that whenever land is allotted by the DDA on perpetual lease hold basis for running a school, a specific clause is included in the allotment letter that bars the school from hiking tuition fees without prior sanction of the DoE.
Despite such specific rules, private schools continued to charge exorbitant amounts beyond the reach of residents and without DoE permission, the counsel said.
(With inputs from HT Correspondent, Delhi)