The Delhi High Court has allowed private unaided schools in the national capital to go ahead with an interim hike in fees to implement the recommendations of the Seventh Central Pay Commission on salaries of teachers and other employees. Justice C Hari Shankar permitted the interim fee hike by quashing a Delhi government circular of April 13 last, which had prohibited private unaided schools functioning on government land from hiking tuition amounts without approval of the Directorate of Education (DoE). The government order was selectively applied to private schools which were on government land and as per a ‘land clause’ in the lease agreement, they needed to seek prior approval of the DoE before hiking fees.
The court, while setting aside the circular, said the statements of fees submitted by private schools would be subject to scrutiny by the DoE “with a view to ensuring that the schools were not indulging in commercialisation of education by resorting to profiteering, or charging of capitation fee”. “The decision for allowing an interim fee hike, as contained in the order dated October 17, 2017, being that of the DoE, there was no justification for jettisoning the said order, in respect of schools governed by the ‘land clause’, as was done by the impugned order dated April 13, 2018.
The impugned order, dated April 13, 2018, therefore, cannot sustain…and is, accordingly, quashed and set aside. “…the ‘interim fee hike’ would operate immediately, in favour of all private unaided schools, without the requirement of any prior approval,” the court said in its 173-page judgement allowing the plea of Action Committee Unaided Recognised Private Schools which had challenged the circular. The court made it clear that “if any school is, in fact, found to be indulging in commercialisation of education, the DoE would be well within its rights in proceeding, against such institution, in accordance with law, and keeping in mind the provisions of the Delhi Schools Education Act and Rules”.
The Action Committee, in its plea filed through advocate Kamal Gupta, had contended that the Delhi Schools Education Act equalised all schools, in the matter of pay and allowances to be granted to teachers and employees and therefore, there was no justification to selectively withdraw the October 17, 2017 order which permitted an interim hike of fees to implement the 7th CPC recommendations. While allowing the plea, the high court referred to several Supreme Court judgements on the issue of regulating functioning of private schools and observed that that “in sum and substance”, the right to establish and administer, unaided educational institutions, is essentially absolute, and bureaucratic and governmental interference in it “has to be necessarily minimal”.
The high court observed that “so long as the fees charged by the concerned educational institution(s) did not amount to ‘commercialisation of education’, thus understood, the Constitution clearly advocates a ‘hands off’ approach by the government, insofar as the establishment and administration of the institution, including the fixation of fees by it, was concerned. This would also immunise the institution from the requirement of being called upon to explain its receipts and expenses, as before a chartered accountant”. The court went on to add that the interim hike, as a temporary measure, did not infract the fundamental rights, either of the institution, or of those to whom it imparted education and therefore, it “was perfectly in order”.