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Students of RGNUL move P&H HC challenging University demand for full semester fee amid COVID-19 crisis

On June 27, students were directed to pay the fee of Rs 1.35 lakhs for the upcoming semester by July 10. Following an urgent hearing before HC on Friday, the University submitted that no late fee would be charged

Meera Emmanuel

Students of the Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law (RGNUL) have moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court challenging a demand made for the payment of the full fee for the upcoming semester (August-December) amid the COVID-19 crisis (Aditya Kashyap and ors. v. State of Punjab and anr).

Terming the move as arbitrary, illegal and against basic principles of equity, the Students have urged the Court to quash an order dated June 20 and a subsequent notice issued on June 27, where the University had demanded Rs 1,35,500 as advance payment for the upcoming semester. It was also intimated that if the fee was not paid by July 10, a late charge of Rs 1,000 per day would apply.

The matter was taken up on an urgent basis on Friday by Justice BS Walia. In a respite to the students, the University through Advocate Punit Gupta submitted before the Court on Friday that no late charges would be imposed.

On Friday the Court also asked the University to file its response before fixing the matter for final arguments on July 22.

The petition has been moved by six students of RGNUL, Aditya Kashyap, Shubham Shukla, Aviral Kumar Mishra, Vaibhav Mukhraiya, Harsh Gopal Daga and Anmol Mahajan through Advocates Varun Issar, Sahej Sandhwalia and Sarthak Gupta. Additional Solicitor General Chetan Mittal appeared for the students.

The petitioners raise grievance over the University's demand for the full semester fee for the upcoming semester in view of the following grounds,

  • There have been no regular online classes as per the scheduled announced on April 12. Even so, the University continues to charge fees beyond the tuition fee. It is added there has been no circular or communication regarding the details of the online classes to be held either to adhere to the BCI rules regarding the minimum class hours in a semester under Chapter II Rule 10 of the Rules of Legal Eduction, 2008.

  • It is argued that while the students are conscious of the liability to remunerate teaching and non-teaching staff and of other expenditure incurred even while the campus remains closed, the action of the University to charge a fee for every service for the entire semester while the routine in-campus activities remain suspended is without any rationale and arbitrary.

  • The plea further contends that in addition to the tuition fee of Rs 55,000, a fee of Rs 41,000 is being charged under heads such as Amenities Fee, Campus Development Fund, Moot Court Fees, Examination Fees and Library Fees even through the University remains shut due to the pandemic.

  • Additionally, it is also noted that hostel charges of Rs 15,000 and Rs 17,500 for double and single occupancy respectively although none of the students presently occupy the hostels. It is highly arbitrary to charge fees for amenities and services such as moot court that have been suspending amid the pandemic, the plea adds.

  • Given that the utility charges generally incurred on account of hostel occupation is also not applicable during this time, the inflexible stand of the University simply reflects the attempt of the University to profiteer at the cost of the students.

  • A major portion of fees paid for the summer semester (February to May) remains unutilised. It is added that the minutes of a Finance Committee Meeting held on June 20 shows that a sum of Rs 214.67 lakhs remains unspent from the year 2019-2020 which can be utilised to reduce the fee payable for the upcoming semester. In this backdrop, the students highlight that instead of adjusting the balance semester fee for the previous semester, the University is arbitrarily demanding full service advance payment of fees for the upcoming semester (August to December).

  • The decision was taken without taking into consideration the interests of students and their families, the majority of whom are still struggling to get back their life on normal wheels after being substantially struck by sectoral lay-offs, pay-cuts, non-disbursals of salary and a strained economy.

  • RGNUL is a State-funded university and expenses are not entirely born out of student-paid fees. As such it is arbitrary to collect such exorbitant fees.

  • The demand for the full fee disregards a May 27 UGC notification urging higher education institutions to address grievances regarding fee payment in a considerate manner.

  • Also cited is a Punjab Government notification of May 14 directing private un-aided schools not to charge any fee during the lockdown period except for tuition fee where online classes are conducted. It is argued that this consideration should be all the more applicable to a University that is neither private nor unaided.

The students assert that the University is constantly manifesting its unwillingness to provide any adequate relief for the students despite having requisite funds to the appropriate for the welfare of students.

Various representations raising the issue and seeking fee relief went unanswered, the petition states. Instead, it is submitted that the RGNUL passed a total non-speaking, arbitrary order on June 27 demanding Rs 1,13,500 as fees to be paid by July 10, with a late payment of Rs 1,000 per day.

A complaint over the short notice at which the fee was so demanded was registered by the National Human Rights Commission on July 3, the plea states. On July 5, a legal notice was served on the University, it is further submitted.

The students have now turned to the High Court to intervene in the matter with the following prayers, i.e.:

  • To quash the order passed on June 6 and subsequent notice dated June 27 whereby the students have not been given any fee relief and instead asked to make an advance payment of the fees for the upcoming semester i.e. Rs 1,13,500 in full.

  • To direct that the University only charge the amount of fee for expenses actually being incurred for the upcoming semester and which can be accounted for.

  • To direct that the University adjust the unutilised portion of the fee charged for the summer semester towards the upcoming semester

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