MUMBAI: In a significant order that offers relief to schools but may not
be as welcomed by parents, Bombay high court on Friday stayed a May 8
Maharashtra government resolution which had barred schools from charging new
and increased fees as declared by them for the academic year 2020-21 but to
continue charging last year’s fees.
Four petitions were filed before the HC. They wanted the GR to be set aside for being excessive, unlawful and unconstitutional. The petitioners included Association of Indian Schools, Kasegaon Education Society, Global Education Foundation and Sant Dnyaneshwar Mauli Sanstha.
The schools' argument was that under the Maharashtra Educational Institutions (regulation of fees) Act the state could not issue directions that are inconsistent with the Act and regulation of fees cannot be done in this manner by the state. The petitions also said that pursuant to the GR, the state education department had written to schools directing them not to insist on payment of school fees for 2019-20 and to not hike the fees this forthcoming academic year.
At the hearing via video-conferencing, petitioners represented by counsels Milind Sathe, Pravin Samdani, Prateek Sakseria along with advocates Amogh Singh, Nivit Srivastava and Vidhi Partners essentially argued that the GR was not valid as the state had no power either under the Fees Act or the Disaster Management Act to regulate fees of private schools and to decide what fees can be charged for the forthcoming academic year. Such decision impinges on the constitutional rights under Article 19(1) (g) of the school managements “to practice any profession, carry on any occupation, trade or business.’’
For the state, assistant government pleader B V Samant and Manish Pabale appeared and made brief submissions in the hearing on June 23 arguing that the state had powers under the Fees Act and the Disaster Management Act. Samant later wrote to the HC saying that apart from making brief legal submissions in the matter they had sought time to file a reply and that since the video link on his instrument got disconnected he was unable to hear that the matter had been reserved on June 23, for orders. He sought time again for the state to file a reply and requested that no orders be passed before giving an opportunity to the state to file a reply and make submissions.
On Friday, the HC bench of Justices Ujjal Bhuyan and Riyaz Chagla posted the matter after six weeks but till then stayed the GR and all communications issued by the Education Department to individual schools for compliance. Their reasoned order for the stay will be out later.
The GR that has been stayed had directed all schools in Maharashtra to not collect one time yearly fees from parents for 2019-20 and 2020-21 but to grant them the option of depositing it on a monthly or quarterly basis and to not increase the fees for 2020-21. It also allowed the Executive committee of parents (EPTA) to pass a resolution for appropriate reduction of fees for the coming academic year if certain educational facilities are not utilized leading to lesser expenses and it had given parents the option to pay fees online during the lockdown.
The association of Indian Schools which runs schools affiliated to Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE), Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and international boards such as Cambridge Assessment International Education (CIE) and International Baccalaureate (IB) said the GR violated their right to profession and also the constitutional right as “private unaided and private unaided minority schools to device their own fee structure without state intervention.