Mumbai: ‘Amicably settle fees issues with parents’

No school in Maharashtra should disallow any student from attending virtual classes for non-payment of fees during the pandemic, said the Bombay High Court bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni on Thursday. The bench further said that schools must try to amicably settle all issues, arising out of fees and its hike and non-payment, with parents and not compel them to resort to litigation.

The bench was dealing with a PIL filed by BJP MLA Atul Bhatkhalkar, seeking a directive to all schools to cut down their fees at least by 50% as parents of many students have lost their source of livelihood during this pandemic.

Senior counsel Dr Birendra Saraf, appearing for Bhatkhalkar told the bench that several schools are disallowing students from attending online classes for non-payment of fees.

“Nobody loses by dispensing knowledge. Why are schools insisting on payment of fees even during the pandemic when several parents aren’t financially sound enough to pay…,” Saraf submitted. Countering this, senior advocate JP Sen – representing the Unaided Schools Forum – submitted that most schools have been granting concessions to parents facing financial issues.

Having heard the submissions, the judges opined that instead of litigating, the parties must make an endeavour to amicably settle the disputes. Justice Kulkarni said, “Don’t debar students from attending online classes. You (schools) must try to mitigate the issue in some or the other way. Fee issue is not something that should be turned into a legal issue. It can be amicably settled and worked out.” He added, “You can sit face-to-face with parents and discuss and try to resolve the issue… We don’t want any student to be resorting to litigation over fees non-payment in these times.”

During the hearing, additional government pleader Geeta Shastri told the bench that around five divisional fee regulatory committees have been constituted. “Parents can approach these committees and agitate their grievances. These committees have been started in Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Nashik and Aurangabad divisions,” Shastri submitted. At this, Dr Saraf pointed out that there are over nine divisions in the state.

The judges accordingly sought to know from Shastri as to when would the committees for the remaining divisions be made functional. “A week or two,” Shastri responded. The matter has been adjourned till August 16.

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