Synopsis: The Bench of Justices Sanjib Banerjee and Moushumi Bhattacharya issued their judgement in the present case on Tuesday.
In the close quarrel between parents of private school students and the school administration over the amount of tuition fees payable during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Calcutta High Court ordered schools to give a reduction of at least 20% in the fees payable.
The judgement in the matter was issued by the Bench of Justices Sanjib Banerjee and Moushumi Bhattacharya on Tuesday.
Some of the salient directions of the Court to private schools in the State were as follows:
- No increase in fees during the 2020-21 financial year.
- From April 2020 until the month following the reopening of schools for regular functioning, a minimum of 20 % of the reduction in fees should be allowed.
- Non-essential fees will not be permissible for services not used.
- Session fees are allowable, subject to the maximum limit of 80%.
- A limit of 5% of excess income over expenditure will be allowable for the 2020-21 financial year.
- If a school has suffered a loss because of the current situation, it can compensate for the loss during the 2021-23 financial years if it resumes regular functioning by March 31, 2021.
- During the financial year 2020-21, there will be no raise in the wages of teachers or other employees. In the event of a higher pay scale by the school, sums outstanding due to pay revisions for teachers and staff will not be recovered from during fees.
- Parents whose financial condition did not merit a fee reduction were asked not to take advantage of the reduction.
- Schools have been directed, on a case-by-case basis, to make further reductions or exemptions for parents unable to make payments on time. Whenever any parent applies for such a reduction, financial statements must support their application.
The above directions do not apply, the Court stated, to those schools whose monthly fees averaged an amount above Rs. 800. If they chose to do so, such schools would be permitted to make reductions as per the instructions.
Applications for additional reductions will have to be submitted by 15 November and the schools are expected to notify the applicant of the decision by 31st December.
A Committee for Adjudicating Grievances has also been formed to address grievances. The Committee consists of Senior Advocate Tilok Bose, Heritage School Principal or Headmistress, and Advocate Priyanka Agarwal. After paying a fee of Rs . 1,000, applications to the Committee are allowed to be made. Within 45 days, the committee was led to decide the applications. To employ auditors to tabulate or scrutinise records, the corpus of application fees would be used.
Schools have even been instructed not to take coercive action against students until the conflict is resolved.
Detailed observations were made by the two Judges on the substantive questions of law at issue in this case, including whether the Court could interfere with the fee structure of a religious and linguistic minority administered institution.