The Bombay High Court while staying a May 8 government resolution (GR) instructing all schools not to hike fees for the academic year 2019-2020, said that the Maharashtra government had no powers to interfere in the process to fix fees of unaided private schools. The High Court has also ordered the government to justify its resolution.
A bench of Justices Ujjal Bhuyan and Riyaz Chagla had stayed the GR last Friday but the copy of their 10-page order was made available on Tuesday.
Notably, the GR also instructed schools not to insist parents to pay the pending fees, if any, during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. The GR issued by the education ministry had also specifically asked schools to allow parents to pay the pending fees (for 2019-2020) in either, monthly or quarterly installments.
While staying the GR till August 11, the bench took into account the difficulties faced by parents in these testing times. "Therefore, we feel that the management of the private unaided schools may consider providing option to the students or parents to pay the fee in such installments as is considered reasonable and also to allow them the option to pay the fee online," Justice Bhuyan said in his order.
While considering the validity of the GR, the judges referred to various provisions of the Maharashtra Educational Institutions (Regulation of Fee) Act.
Section 5 of the act, empowers the government to regulate fees in government and aided schools but section 6 makes it clear that the management of private unaided schools and permanently unaided schools shall be competent to propose the fee in their schools, the judges noted.
"Thus, we are of the considered prima facie opinion that the government had no jurisdiction to issue such a GR," the bench held.
The judges further perused the Epidemic Diseases Act, relying on which the government had issued the GR claiming this pandemic was sort of a disaster. "Even under this law, we do not find any such enabling provision empowering the state government to issue a resolution like the impugned one," the judges said.
The bench was dealing with a bunch of petitions filed by various schools and their associations challenging the GR issued on May 8. The petitions filed through senior counsel Milind Sathe claimed that the GR breached their fundamental rights and took away their right to regulate the educational institutions and fix the fees for an academic year.