The Gujarat High Court has quashed the Government Resolution (dated 16.07.2020) to the extent of its arbitrariness. It has imposed a greater duty on the State to safeguard the interests of citizens while not compromising the fundamental right to education.
Brief Facts of the Case
In March 2020, the Union Government announced nation-wide lockdown owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. In furtherance, all educational institutions were closed down. However, they were permitted to operate in an online, audio-visual system. With the commencement of the new academic year, the unaided schools demanded fees from parents to run the errands of the institution.
The State Government had enacted the Gujarat Self-Financed School (Regulation of Fees) Act, 2017. The said Act fixed the number of fees in unaided schools within Gujarat. The same was challenged by the petitioners in the present matter. The validity of the Act is currently pending in the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the Education Department of Gujarat passed a resolution restraining unaided schools from collecting the fees for online education.
The petitioner is an association of unaided schools registered as a public charitable trust in Gujarat. They have challenged the authority of the state government to pass any resolution interfering with the fee-structure of self-financed schools. They submitted the resolution to be ex facie unreasonable and arbitrary, violating fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19 (1)(g) of the Constitution.
The court has noted that the adverse impacts of the pandemic must be shouldered by all the stakeholders. The impugned resolution would divide the society into sections, evidently, against Article 14 of the Constitution. The court has expressed strong remarks on charging fees in government-funded medical colleges. Hence, the resolution creates uncertainty and bias during these unprecedented times.
The court takes into consideration the unnecessary fees charged for extra-curricular activities. However, the institution has annual expenditures on salaries, establishments. These expenses must be accounted for and not borne by the institution. The unaided private schools are entirely dependent on fees to meet their daily expenses. In the case of non-receipt, the financial burden would lead to a permanent closure of smaller institutions. Furthermore, this would lead to enrollments in schools charging higher fees or discontinuation of education. It would estrange the future of children as they lose the sense of continuity and normalcy.
Further, the court has asked the schools to be conscious and compassionate towards the families of students. The schools must adopt a non-profit outlook for the current academic year. They should collect fees on a monthly basis or in instalments to lessen the burden of parents/ guardians.
Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice J. B. Pardiwala pronounced the judgement. They have directed an amicable understanding between the federation of unaided schools and the State Government. The government must endeavour to strike a balance between the interests of the parents and the management of the school.
Hence, it dismissed the writ petitions and quashed the clauses 4.3 and 4.4 of the Government Resolution. It asserted- “It would be too much to say that the private schools shall not demand any fees. At the same time, we expect the federation and the State Government to sit across the table to arrive at some understanding with an open mind and open heart.”
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