Delhi High Court Dismisses Writ Petition Seeking Exemption Of Payment Of Tuition Fees; Rejects The Stance That Schools Are Closed; Appreciates Teachers Efforts In Imparting Education Online

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The Division Bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice C Hari Shankar dismissed the writ petition (Naresh Kumar v. Director of Education & Anr.) seeking exemption of payment of fees, including tuition fees, to schools during the period of lockdown.

Brief facts of the case

In response to the order passed by the Directorate of Education, Govt. of NCT of Delhi dated 17.04.2020 which dealt with guidelines informing educational institutions various rules and regulations to be followed, regarding payment of fees and other particulars during the coronavirus pandemic situation, the petitioner (Naresh Kumar) prayed for the court to issue an order or direction to the respondents to further direct schools, not to charge the tuition fees from the students keeping in view the present situation of COVID-19, at least during the lockdown period, in the interest of justice. Also, to the extent of tuition fees, if any, be charged after an appropriate and reasonable time from the re-opening of schools and as the Hon’ble Court deems fit.

Arguments before the court

Shri Naresh Kumar, the petitioner appearing in person mainly contended that given the spread of COVID-19, all business/professionals/self-employed persons and others have ceased to earn and are dependant on their savings, thus are not in a position to pay the school fees of their wards even at the existing rates.

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He contends that the class of persons for whose benefit the petition has been filed are such person’s incapable of accessing the Court themselves. He submits that the impugned order dated 17.04.2020 be modified, by granting complete exemption from payment of any fee, including tuition fees, at least for the period during which the existing lockdown continues to be in place or modified to the extent that tuition fees be charged “after an appropriate and reasonable time from the reopening of the schools.”

He additionally placed reliance on Rule 165 of the Delhi School Education Rules, 1973, the first proviso which defers the requirement of payment of fees to the date following the 10th day on which the school reopens, in a case where the school is closed on the 10th day of the month. Relying on the proviso, he further submitted that the tuition fees cannot be charged by schools, during the period of such closure.

Mr. Ramesh Singh, the learned counsel appearing on behalf of DoE, placed reliance on the impugned order dated 17.04.2020 regarding the malpractices by schools and educational institutions such as increasing the school fee for the academic year 2020-2021, not providing login details for online classes to students who failed to make the fee payment, collecting fees from parents and students quarterly, and not paying teaching and non-teaching staff were all addressed and directions were also issued accordingly in the order issued by the office of DoE.

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He also contended that the wards of parents who faced financial strains to pay the fees will be allotted the relevant ID and password for online classes under the provisions of the impugned Order which mandates schools to provide login details to students whose parents, owing to lockdown, find themselves in financial doldrums to pay the fees.

Court’s view

The High Court of Delhi reiterates that the writ petition does not disclose the name of even a single parent who claims to be aggrieved by the impugned order as it has been filed by a practising advocate who has no personal connection to this matter.

Thus, the issue of whether the petitioner has any locus standi at all, to maintain the challenge, which he purports to espouse, especially in the form of a Public Interest Litigation was taken into question. Yet, the court examined the challenge, in the writ petition in its own merits.

The Court appreciates the painstaking efforts taken by the teaching staff to facilitate the conduction of online classes so that students don’t suffer any lag in their academics. Rule 165 of DSE Rules do not apply as education is being imparted online, and students are availing the benefit thereof, schools cannot be treated as closed to disentitle them from charging tuition fees.

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The Court suggests that having made all infrastructural arrangements to facilitate e-learning through online platforms, schools should not be permitted to charge tuition fees, would be bordering on absurdity.

Money does not grow on trees, and unaided schools, who received no funds from the Government, are entirely dependent on fees, to defray their daily expenses. We, therefore, find that, in allowing unaided schools to charge tuition fees, whereby expenses incurred on salary, establishments and curricular activities may be defrayed by them, the impugned Order dated 17th April 2020, strikes a wholesome balance, with which we are ill-inclined to interfere.

The fundamental reason for not exempting tuition fees, in the impugned Order, is that tuition fees cover salary, establishments and curricular activities, the expenditure where on continues to be incurred by schools, even during the period of lockdown, and before they can resume normal work.

Court’s decision

The High Court of Delhi, therefore, dismissed the writ petition and is of the view that the impugned Order passed by the DoE, dated 17.04.2020, strikes a fine balance between the legitimate concerns of the institutions, and parents or students, even while safeguarding the interests of parents who may find themselves in impecunious circumstances, owing to the lockdown presently in place, or due to closure of their businesses or establishments.


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