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Approach Calcutta HC for recall/modification: SC tells private minority unaided schools challenging HC order on school fees amid COVID-19

The Supreme Court, however, directed for the challenged High Court order to be kept in abeyance till the recall/modification application is decided.

Shruti Mahajan

The Supreme Court today disposed of a petition assailing the order of the Calcutta High Court which restrained schools, including private unaided minority educational institutions, from taking coercive steps against students for the non-payment of fees amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A three-judge bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subshash Reddy and MR Shah disposed of the plea filed by a group of such institutions that challenged the order of the Calcutta High Court.

The Apex Court asked the petitioners to approach the High Court for seeking the recall or modification of its order.

The Court noted that interference in the Calcutta High Court's order of August 18 is not called for in the matter. The top Court added that the petitioners have the liberty to move the High Court for relief.

In some respite to the petitioners however, the Supreme Court has directed for the order under challenge to be kept in abeyance till a decision on the plea for recall/modification is taken up by the High Court. The Court said,

"In so far as order dated 18.08.2020 is concerned, we grant liberty to the petitioners to make an application before the High Court for recall/modification of the order dated 18.08.2020. Until orders are passed on such application of petitioner, the order dated 18.08.2020 shall not be given effect to; and the same is ordered to be kept in abeyance."

Keeping in view the nature of the issue which pertains to examinations, the Court said that the High Court may decide the issues at an early date. The order reads,

"We, however, are of the view that looking to the issues, which are involved in the writ petition, the High Court may decide all issues at an early date."

The Calcutta High Court on August 18 restrained such schools from taking any “coercive action” against the students who have not yet remitted the fees amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

To ascertain each private unaided school's accounts and fees due, the Court had also constituted a committee comprising of Professor Suranjan Das, Vice-Chancellor of Jadavpur University (subject to his assent), and a nominee of the Advocate-General.

In the challenge to this order, the petitioners before the Court had argued that this order impinged upon their right under Article 30(1) of the Constitution. As such, it was contended that the High Court order must be set aside.

The maintainability of the High Court order was also questioned by the petitioners, who argued that a direction for the institutions to turn in their audited books of accounts prejudices the minority institutions' rights.

The Supreme Court has, however, granted liberty to the petitioners to seek necessary modifications from the Calcutta High Court.

The petitioners were represented by Senior Counsel Shyam Divan with Advocates Rohit Amit Sthalekar, Sankalp Narain and the Respondents were represented by Senior Counsel R Basant and Advocate Suhaan Mukerji.

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