Schools must reduce fees as on-campus facilities remain closed: Supreme Court

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Amid calls to slash school fees, Supreme Court has asked educational institutions to reduce fees as their running costs have come down with offline class and on-campus facilities remaining closed. Bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari said that schools must be sensitive to the problems faced by people amid the pandemic and take steps to help students and their parents in these hard times.

“In law, the school management cannot collect fees in respect of activities and facilities which are, in fact, not provided to or availed of by its students due to circumstances beyond their control. Demanding fees even in respect of overheads on such activities would be nothing short of indulging in profiteering and commercialisation. It is a well-known fact and judicial notice can also be taken that due to complete lockdown, schools were not allowed to open for substantially long period during the academic year 2020-21. Resultantly, the school management must have saved overheads and recurring costs on various items such as petrol/diesel, electricity, maintenance cost, water charges, stationery charges, etc,” the bench stated.

While listening to a bunch of pleas by private unaided schools of Rajasthan against the state government’s order to forego 30 per cent of the tuition fee during the pandemic, the bench agreed that schools had to reduce the fees.

It stated that the appellants are justified in assailing the order but they must not be rigid and insensitive to the aftermath of the pandemic. The bench said that the school management supposedly engaged in doing charitable activity of imparting education must take necessary remedial measures to mitigate the hardship suffered by students.

“It is for the school management to reschedule payment of school fees in such a way that not even a single student is left out or denied opportunity of pursuing his/her education, so as to effectuate the adage —  live and let live,” the bench said.

The parents who have demanded a cut in fees told the bench that the schools have saved colossal amounts of money due to online classes towards electricity charges, water charges, stationery charges and miscellaneous charges.

The bench agreed and said that overheads and operational costs must have been saved but none of the parties produced accurate empirical data. It said that thus it assumes that school managements must have saved 15 per cent of annual school fees. “The appellants (school management of the private unaided schools) shall collect annual school fees from their students as fixed under the Act of 2016, but by providing deduction of 15 per cent on that amount in lieu of unutilised facilities by students during the relevant period of academic year 2020-21,” said the bench. The court also asked schools not to debar any student from attending online or physical classes due to non-payment of fees or outstanding fees.