Bombay HC vacates stay on GR restraining hike in school fees amid pandemic
The Bombay high court (HC) on Monday vacated the stay on the government resolution (GR) that restrained schools from hiking fees for the academic year of 2020-21 in view of the pandemic. However, the court has said the state may initiate action against a school in case of complaints from parents or even take suo motu action in case of alleged exploitation by a school. The hearing in the case has gone on for almost four months.
A division bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice Girish Kulkarni was hearing petitions filed by various private unaided schools which challenged the GR of May 8, 2020. According to the GR, schools were not allowed to raise their fees in light of the pandemic and schools were to refrain from taking coercive action (like expulsion or not being allowed to attend classes) against students whose parents were unable to pay the fees. Senior counsels and advocates representing the schools argued the GR was unconstitutional and that the Maharashtra Educational Institutions (Regulation of Fee) (MEIR) Act had enough provisions to restrain schools from hiking fees. Representing the state, senior counsel Anil Anturkar justified the GR, pointing to the extraordinary circumstances and disaster management Acts being invoked across the country as parents had lost their jobs.
On Monday, the bench declared the GR was “only prospective in nature and cannot apply to schools which have already fixed/ declared their fee for Academic Year 2020-21 and/or where such fees are duly accepted in terms of the MEIR Act as amended and/or has been acted upon before the Resolution dated 8th May 2020.” The court did not pass orders on the question of the constitutional validity of the GR and reiterated that parents had to pay the fees.
The bench also directed the state to address complaints of parents or take suo moto action against schools that violated the MEIR Act. It also restrained schools from taking coercive action against students whose parents had lodged complaints.