Temporary relief on order allowing private schools to increase fee
The Delhi high court on Wednesday barred private schools built on public land in the city from raising their fees until April 8, the next date of hearing on a petition challenging a March 15 order by single judge that allowed the increase.
The school had claimed that they needed to increase their fees to enable them to implement the recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission on salaries for teachers and other employees.
A bench of justices S Muralidhar and IS Mehta sought the response of the Action Committee Unaided Recognised Private Schools (ACURPS), an association of 325 private schools functioning on government or public land, to a Directorate of Education (DoE) plea challenging the March 15 order that allowed the schools to increase their fees.
The court directed the schools not to charge an interim fee increase.
“Till the next date of hearing, none of the land clause schools will proceed to collect the amount constituting the interim fee hike in terms of the October 17, 2017 circular issued by the Appellant no 1 (DoE),” the bench said, referring to the circular which allowed the schools to increase their fees by up to 15% to implement the 7th Pay Commission recommendations.
Under the land lease agreements of these schools, they cannot increase their fees without prior approval from the DoE. Once a proposal is sent, the DoE will audit their finances and they can be allowed to increase the fee only if they are found to be struggling to manage their expenses.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal congratulated parents of students of these schools after the court’s order on Wednesday.
“After the Delhi high court’s [March 15] decision, many private schools in Delhi had raised the fees in the last one week. Thousands of rupees were being demanded from the parents as arrears. There was rage among parents. Your government had appealed in the high court and today, the court has stayed the fee hike.”
On March 15, Justice C Hari Shankar quashed an April 13, 2018 DoE order directing private, unaided recognised schools built on land allotted by the Delhi Development Authority or any other government agency against increasing fees without prior permission.
The ACURPS had challenged the DoE’s order against the fee increase. The government challenged justice Shankar’s ruling and sought a stay on it.
The high court on Wednesday directed the Delhi government to place before it a complete compilation of all the orders it has passed on the proposals submitted by all “land clause” schools till the next date of hearing on Monday.
It directed the ACURPS to produce a complete list of its member-schools and those among them functioning on public land.
Delhi government’s standing counsel, Ramesh Singh, said the court had earlier “misdirected” itself by quashing the April 13, 2018 order. It said the court quashed the circular without going into and deciding its legality and validity.
Advocate Kamal Gupta, who represented the ACURPS, maintained that the court order did not amount to a “stay” on the single judge’s ruling. “The court has indicated that it shall be making a detailed interim arrangement on Monday and thus, the schools shall wait till then. There is no stay on the single bench’s judgment as claimed by the government.... [the court] in fact wants to set up an independent panel to take away the scrutiny of fee hike proposals from the DoE,” he said.
A DoE official said the department was ready with the scrutiny of 130 private schools built on public land. “The department has already rejected the fee hike proposal of around 100 schools after auditing their finances. We have also completed the process of auditing the finances of other 30 schools,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
Delhi Parents Association president Aparajita Gautam said the DoE should have moved the court a little earlier. “Parents welcome the court’s decision. But it would be much better if this order was given 10-15 days ago because many schools have collected arrears from parents. We want to know if the last order of the court has come in support of the parents, then who will take the responsibility to get their money back?”