The Supreme Court has directed private unaided schools in Rajasthan to waiver 15% fees as various on-campus facilities are now closed and cannot be availed by students. The apex court was hearing a petition by private unaided schools in Rajasthan who moved to the SC against the Rajasthan High Court’s direction to forego significant percentage of school fees due to the pandemic. The Supreme Court indicated that the state does not have any authority to violate the autonomy of such schools even during the pandemic. However, the court also ruled that schools must reduce their fees by 15% since running costs are now reduced as schools are closed due to the pandemic.
Justice A M Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari insisted that schools must be sensitive toward the economic hardships faced by students and their parents during the pandemic. They ruled that since schools are closed now, they must have been saving on various overhead costs. In addition, various on-campus facilities cannot be availed by the students as classes are being run in the online mode during the pandemic. Hence, collecting fees for such facilities is undeserving by such schools. The Justices termed such collection of fees as profiteering.
Reportedly, the Rajasthan state government directed private unaided schools to waiver fees by up to 70%. The state justified itself as contending for the people who are facing economic problems during the pandemic. Similar decision by HCs in other states such as West Bengal was also seen earlier. Reportedly, the Calcutta High Court in the previous year, directed 145 schools to waiver the fees by 20% until schools are reopened and physical classes are started.
The Supreme Court ruled that the state is not entitled under the Disaster Management Act or the Rajasthan Epidemic Diseases Act 2020 to violate the autonomy of private unaided schools even during a pandemic. As such, the 128 page judgement came in favour of the private schools. The top court was quoted saying that contending for the people facing economic hardship during the pandemic by ordering schools to reduce fees is similar to the adage “Robbing Paul to pay Peter”.
The top court however also said that schools should collect “just” and “permissible” fees in their own discretion considering the economic hardships faced by the student community during the pandemic. The decision of the top court brings a ray of hope for the entire student community in India. Essentially, the COVID-19 pandemic has put the entire country in an economic downturn. In such a situation, demands of reducing school fees has been prevalent in other states as well.