The HC said that for disputes relating to the Covid fee order, the schools should seek civil remedy and not take coercive steps against students.
The court was hearing the protracted set of litigations pitting schools against some parents over fees as schools were shut down for physical classes after March 2020.
The parents went to court complaining that schools continued to charge them fees that were “disproportionately high, considering the type of education imparted online”. Other parents complained that although physical education had been stopped, schools kept charging them for facilities and services that were no longer available because classes had shifted online.
The schools had moved court alleging parents had not been paying fees, in some cases paying less than what was demanded. They argued that schools hadn’t shut down, and that they had retained teachers, staff and services even though education had gone online. Schools had also told that despite the 20% Covid relief provided by the HC, some parents had refused to pay, citing personal – but unsubstantiated – claims.
A division bench of Justice I P Mukerji and Justice Moushumi Bhattacharya on Friday said, “We are very happy to note that the Covid pandemic is over. We take great satisfaction in recording that during this unforeseen and very serious catastrophe, we were through this public interest litigation able to guide the educational institutions and the students and guardians.
We tried to ensure that the educational institutions while imparting online education during this period charged reduced fees as fixed by us and that the students and their guardians cooperated with one another in the conduct of education and by punctual payment of the fees.”
Adding that “today we find that those disputes have been virtually resolved or at least narrowed down to a great extent,” the HC said for issues which “relate to recovery of outstanding fees by the educational institutions for that period in relation to any student, it may be resolved through a civil remedy, without the institution taking any coercive steps against the student by expelling him/her from the school or withholding his/her certificate, mark-sheet, admit card, promotion, appearance in examination etc.”
But the HC made it clear that this “order would not cover any default on the part of a student or his/her guardian or the school for any period prior to or after the Covid period.” On several contempt allegations for non-adherence to the HC’s order, the bench said “in view of the changed circumstances” it was unwilling to take steps or act on these cases.
On September 29, a Supreme Court bench of Justice M R Shah and Justice Krishna Murari on this same case had ordered, “In view of the changed circumstances, more particularly when the Covid period has gone, we request the High Court to finally decide and dispose of the pending writ petitions rather than keeping them pending and issuing directions time to time, as early as possible.”
South Point School trustee Krishna Damani said, “We are happy that the matter is now being finally put to rest. Now one can concentrate on what schools can do the best – imparting education rather than running around courts.”