The Calcutta High Court on Friday directed that at least 50 per cent of the due school fee of students will have to be paid by defaulting parents within three weeks, failing which it will consider allowing the institutes involved in the litigation to take punitive action including removal of the name of the students from the roll of the school.
The court said that it will also consider that for those students who have taken the board exams for classes 10 and 12 and passed, "a direction is to be made to the respective boards to suspend" their qualification and certificates till the school fees are paid.
Expressing displeasure at a section of financially stable parents allegedly taking advantage of the current pandemic situation to not pay fees of their wards on time, a division bench comprising Justices I P Mukerji and Moushumi Bhattacharya ordered that the parents must pay at least 50 per cent of the dues within three weeks.
The bench directed the educational institutions covered by this public interest litigation (PIL) to send to each defaulting guardian a notice within a week stating the outstanding fees as of date from March 2020.
The bench said that if on the next date of hearing there is any default, this court will consider permitting the schools to suspend such students from attending online and physical classes or to "remove the name of the students from the roll of the school without further notice." The court directed that the matter will be taken up for hearing again on September 2.
The bench said that while many families are in financial distress in view of the Covid situation, the school authorities are also finding it hard to run the institutions.
Lawyers representing schools claimed before the bench that parents of a section of students were defaulting on payment of fees as per an earlier order of the high court leading to difficulties in running the institutions.
The bench is hearing a PIL by guardians of students of a school in Purba Medinipur district that sought reduction in school fees in West Bengal in view of the ongoing Covid pandemic situation.
The petitioners prayed for the application of an order of the high court, passed on October 13, 2020, that directed 145 schools that were respondents in another PIL to reduce fees by 20 per cent for the financial year of 2020-21.
The high court had on that day directed that there would be no increase in the school fees during the financial year 2020-21. It had been further ordered that "non-essential charges for use of facilities not availed of would not be permissible".
The petitioners prayed for application of that order to all the students in schools in West Bengal for the financial year 2021-22.
"We are sad and annoyed to know that although the economic situation is much better now than in 2020 and that most persons have learnt how to adjust their lives to the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic, quite a significant number of parents and guardians of the students of various schools and other teaching institutions have taken advantage of this order by not paying the school fees at all," the bench observed in its order on Friday.
The bench said that if all the teaching institutions before it are taken into account, the total amount of unpaid school fees runs into several crores of rupees.
"We are also told that quite a number of defaulting parents are government servants who have suffered no loss of pay during this pandemic. It is also submitted that a substantial number of parents and guardians have the ability to pay the school fees but are deliberately not paying the dues of the teaching institutions," the court noted.
Observing that the teaching institutions are finding it very hard to maintain themselves, the bench said that at this point of time, there is a need to balance the requirement of the schools against the need of the students.
"The innocent students, we feel, should not be made to suffer for their errant parents and guardians," the court observed
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