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The Gujarat High Court has upheld the constitutional validity of the Gujarat Self Financed Schools (Regulation of Fees) Act, 2017, a legislation that effectively puts a cap on primary school fees at Rs. 15,000 per year.
The batch of petitions had been classified into the following categories:
(a) The petitions filed by CBSE, ICSE and IB board;
(b) the petitions filed by schools affiliated to the state board;
(c) the petitions filed by minority CBSE schools;
(d) Writ Petition (PIL) filed by the parent and;
(e) one petition being Special Civil Application No.12897 of 2017 filed by parent for implementation of the Act of 2017 and Rules of 2017.
The Act had prescribed the fees at Rs. 15,000/p.a. for primary education, Rs. 25,000/p.a. for secondary education and Rs. 27,000/p.a. for higher secondary education, whilst providing that the schools should not charge more than the previous year’s fees.
The Rules state that the schools charging higher than the slab as specified in the circular shall have to submit a proposal for approval of fixation of fees in accordance with the provisions as stated in the Act.
The Act and the Rules raised a lot of questions on the powers of the state to pass such a legislation, and thus gave rise to a number of petitions challenging certain provisions of the Act, as well as the Act in toto.
It was contended by the schools affiliated to the CBSE, ICSE and IB board that since the fees for each academic year are fixed and collected in advance, the Act cannot apply to them.
The schools affiliated to the state boards contended that the Centre’s Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act) and the state government’s Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules of 2012 are self-competent and comprehensive, and do not require any other Act to oversee the mechanism.
The petition filed by the parents contended that since there is no inclusion of parents/guardians of the students in the committees constituted under the Act, the Rules become discriminative in nature, and thus fail to support the object of the Act. The legislation was passed with a view to the controlling the fees of self-financed schools and to provide relief to the parents of students against the exorbitant charging of fees by self-financed schools.
While disposing of the batch of petitions, the Bench in its order noted that since the RTE Act and the Act of 2017 are differential in nature, the Rules and the provisions of the impugned Act are not repugnant to provisions of RTE Act. Further, it was held that the restrictions imposed by the Act and the Rules were reasonable.
“..the Gujarat Self Financed Schools (Regulation of Fees) Rules, 2017 are not violative of Article 14 and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India and the various restrictions in the above said provisions of the Act and Rules framed thereunder are reasonable restrictions, within the meaning of Article 19(6) of the Constitution of India.”
The Bench went on to state,
“We are of the view that the provisions of the Act is in tune with the legal principles laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in various decisions with reference to the autonomy to the schools to fix their fee on the one hand and conferring power to regulate the quantum of fee with limited purpose to ensure that the schools are not indulging in profiteering on the other hand.”
The Bench has also clarified that self-financed schools are at liberty to submit a proposal to the competent authority, prescribing any other fees to improve the quality of education and the standard of schools, while keeping in mind that the same should not amount to charging of exorbitant fees or profiteering.
Read the Self financed Schools (Regulation of Fees) Act, 2017