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The Court was informed today that the Executive Committee of the University is due to meet on September 19 to decide on the matter, in line with the Chancellor's earlier directions.
The Kerala High Court today directed that the National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi (NUALS) decide on the question of fee collection for services not used during the COVID-19 pandemic period as expeditiously as possible, and not later than Septemeber 24.
Pertinently, Justice CS Dias added that the NUALS administration cannot deny students of the University access to online classes until then. This direction was issued in view of a circular that stated that students who do not pay up the fees by September 19 would be removed from the rolls.
The Court was hearing a plea moved by a number of students against the collection of fees for those services not being availed by them owing to COVID-19 pandemic.
The plea filed through Ninan & Mathew Advocates seeks a waiver of fee for those facilities which are not being availed by the petitioners, and on which the University is not incurring any expenditure, due to the absence of physical classes amid the pandemic.
Appearing for the petitioner-students today, Advocate Santhosh Mathew submitted that the tuition fee payment is not being disputed and that the students are willing to pay fees for tuition. However, he pointed out that there are additional fees being demanded, including those for gym fees and electricity, although these services are not being used by the students.
Justice Dias however queried, “When they joined the college, didn’t they know this was the table of fees?”
Advocate Mathew responded that while the students were aware of the fees payable ordinarily, a situation like COVID-19 was not envisaged. It was further submitted that in the payment of fees, there should be an element of quid pro quo.
The Court, however, opined that “I find that maximum intelligence has been shown by 25% reduction in fees and (payment of fees) 4 instalments.”
The Court added, “COVID may go tomorrow”. In such a situation the Judge orally as remarked that the University facilities may have to be maintained in the meanwhile.
“University has to be preserved.. it is all our children who will study there”, Justice Dias orally remarked.
Advocate Mathew pointed out that the University facilities are presently being used as COVID-19 facilities. He went on to re-assert that the students are willing to pay the tuition fee. Further, he submitted that the Executive Council of the University has not yet taken a final decision on the issue. As such, Advocate Mathew urged the Court to issue a direction against the collection of fees until then.
Appearing for NUALS, Advocate Pauly Mathew submitted that in view of the pandemic situation, a proportion reduction in fees has been given.
“Maximum possible benefit has been extended”, Advocate Pauly asserted, adding that the Parent Teacher Association was also consulted before the decision was taken.
In response to the Court’s queries on how long it would take for NUALS to take a final decision on the issue (in line with the Chancellor’s directions), Advocate Pauly said that a meeting has been scheduled for September 19.
As such, the Court opined that it would pass a direction not to take any coercive measures against the students until this decision is taken by the Executive Council.
“You put your stand before the Court (at the next hearing following the meeting), we will take a decision then”, the Judge said, adding orally, “Don’t take coercive action against petitioners till you take a decision.”
Accordingly, the Court has now directed the NUALS authorities to take a decision on representation already submitted by the students over the issue as expeditiously as possible, and in any case, on or before September 24.
The matter has been fixed for hearing next on September 28.
Further ellaborating on the issue, the petition informs that apart from Tuition fee, NUALS has directed students to pay fees under 13 heads which include Library Fee, Information System Facility Fee, Electricity Charges, Students' Welfare Fund, Students' Council Fee, Sports and Games Fee, Moot Court Fee, Medical/Gym/Fitness Fee among others.
Collection of any other fee other than tuition fee in the current situation is completely arbitrary and goes against the legitimate expectation of the petitioners, argues the plea.
The plea also relies on a circular issued by Bar Council of India (BCI) to all law colleges in the country to consider the request made by the students regarding fee concession sympathetically and to consider granting fee concession in view of the savings on electricity charges and maintenance of infrastructure which the colleges would have otherwise had to bear when physical classes were conducted.
Highlighting these requests, the plea further states that the students had earlier submitted a representation to the University Authorities. However, even after the Chief Justice of the High Court of Kerala, who is the Chancellor, NUALS, had directed the university to consider the said representation, there has been no favorable response as of yet.
Therefore, the petition prays that the Court direct that NUALS not to collect fee, other than tuition fee, for such services which are not being availed by the students during the period of lockdown.
Further, the plea urges the Court to direct NUALS from not taking coercive action against those students for non-payment of the other fee such as Library Fee, Information System Facility Fee etc.