Rajasthan Schools (Regulation of Fee) Act, 2016, and Rajasthan Schools (Regulation of Fee) Rules, 2017 Not Violative of Article 19(1)(G): Supreme Court

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Background

Two sets of appeals were disposed of through this common judgement. The first set of appeals were filed by the appellants i.e., Management(s) of private unaided schools in Rajasthan against the decisions of Jaipur and Jodhpur bench of the Rajasthan High Court. The appellants had basically assailed the validity of the Rajasthan Schools (Regulation of Fee) Act, 2016, and the Rajasthan Schools (Regulation of Fee) Rules, 2017, as being ultra vires the Constitution and abridge the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India to carry on the occupation of imparting education which includes the autonomy to determine the school fees by the Management of private unaided schools.

The issues involved in all these appeals concerned around 36000 private unaided schools including 220 minority private unaided schools in the state of Rajasthan governed by the provisions of the Act of 2016.  

Petitioner’s Arguments

The petitioners urged that any restriction imposed regarding the fees would be arbitrary and unreasonable. Further, that the impugned provisions inevitably limit the autonomy of the school Management of private unaided schools to the level of merely proposing the school fees to the School Level Fee Committee, in which the management has only one representative as against eight others i.e., five parents, three teachers and one principal. In the process, an environment of constant difference of opinion would prevail between the school management on one side and the parents of the wards and teachers, who would form part of the SLFC.  The school fees so determined by the SLFC as per the provisions of the impugned Act of 2016, would remain unchanged and binding for the next three years with no provision for an increase in case of the contingency of funds needed for new development or general inflation or hike in salary and wages staff or any other legitimate purpose. Resultantly, schools would suffer uncertainty in financial matters.

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They further urged that the provisions of the impugned Act of 2016 were unworkable and violate the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. It was further urged that by now it is well established that the private unaided schools ought to have maximum autonomy with regard to administration including the right of appointment, disciplinary powers, admission of students and the “fees to be charged”.  

According to the appellants, the impugned Act of 2016 fell foul of the doctrine of proportionality — as restrictions imposed on the school Management in respect of the determination of school fees have no cogent nexus/object sought to be achieved. It was lastly urged that the legislative field regarding the regulation of school fees was already occupied by the law made by the Parliament being the RTE Act11 and the Rules12 framed thereunder. Hence, it was not open to the State legislature to enact a law on the same subject.   

Respondent’s Arguments

The respondent State countered the same on the argument that the impugned Act of 2016 was in the nature of regulatory law, with complete autonomy to the school Management to decide about its fee structure which, however, could be given effect to upon approval given by the SLFC. It was further contended that the SLFC consists of not only parents of wards, but also the school Management and their representatives in the form of teachers.  It ensured the participation of all the stakeholders and democratisation of the decision-making process. Furthermore, that the proposal of the school Management, if found to be in order, was generally approved and it was open to the SLFC to give counter suggestion which if acceptable to the school Management can be acted upon by it.  In case there was a difference of opinion, only then the matter goes for adjudication of the rival claims before the DFRC and the decision of that Authority becomes binding on the parties. According to the respondent State, the setting up of External Fee Regulatory Authority was consistent with the jurisprudential exposition of this Court and held not to be violative of Article 19(1)(g) or Article 30 of the Constitution of India. According to the State, there was no ambiguity in the provisions of the Act of 2016.  The respondent State has also refuted the challenge to the impugned Act of 2016 merely on the basis of its nomenclature. According to the State, non-mentioning of the words prevention of profiteering and charging of capitation fee in the impugned Act of 2016, does not ipso facto make the same constitutionally suspect. 

Court’s Observations 

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The Court heard the learned counsel for both the appellants as well as the respondents. After considering their rival arguments and considering the impugned judgment, the Court observed that although the High Court was right in its conclusion, it has disposed of the challenge to the validity of different provisions of the impugned Act of 2016 and the Rules framed thereunder in a summary manner.  It said that merely adverting to the decisions of this Court was not enough.  The High Court should have then analysed the challenge to the respective provisions and also the overall scheme of the Act of 2016.  

After considering several cases in this regard, the Court further observed that it was not open to argue that the Government cannot provide for an external regulatory mechanism for determination of school fees or so to say fixation of “just” and “permissible” school fees at the initial stage itself. The Court observed that the question was: whether the impugned enactment stands the test of reasonableness and rationality and balances the right of the educational institutions (private unaided schools) guaranteed to them under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution in the matter of determination of school fees? The Court further perused several provisions of the Act of 2016 for this.

After perusal of the Act, the Court found that the appellants had failed to substantiate the challenge to the validity of the relevant provisions of the Act of 2016. The Court further perused the impugned Rules and found that the same was in no way infringing the fundamental right under Article 19(1)(g).

The last assail was on the argument that the field regarding (school) fee, in particular capitation fee, is already covered by the law enacted by the Parliament being RTE Act and for that reason, it was not open to the State to enact a law on the same subject such as the impugned Act of 2016.  The Court found this argument completely misplaced and tenuous.  

Court’s Decision

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After considering the whole matter, the Court upheld the conclusion of the   High Court in rejecting the challenge to the validity of the impugned Act of 2016 and Rules framed thereunder. The Court held that the High Court rightly concluded that the provisions of the Act of 2016 as well as the Rules of 2017 are intra vires the Constitution of India and not violative of Articles 13(2) and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. 

CLICK HERE TO READ THE JUDGEMENT.


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