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Plea in Supreme Court seeks direction for private aided/unaided schools to waive fees for months of April to June this year

It is pointed out, inter alia, that State Governments and High Courts have taken inconsistent stances on the issue. This has entailed in hostile discrimination as regards the protection of students' rights, it is stated.

Shruti Mahajan

A petition has been filed in Supreme Court by a group of parents from various States seeking relief from paying school fees in private aided/unaided schools for months of April, May, and June this year due to COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.

The petition seeks that the Centre and State governments direct private schools to not charge any fees from students enrolled with those schools for a period of three months from April to June or till physical classes start after lifting of the lockdown. Various prayers have been made for fee-waiver relief in the petition, including the following.

The petitioners pray for directions so that schools only charge fees proportionate to the conduct of online classes and, further that, only tuition fees be collected. No other component of the fees may be charged from the enrolled students, the plea prays.

The waiver is sought until regular physical classes in schools resume after the COVID-19 lockdown and restrictions on the functioning of schools are lifted, it is said.

Further, a complete waiver of fees is sought for students whose parents are currently not engaged in any vocation or who have faced a reduction in salary or who are not earning any income due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown during the months between March and July.

A prayer is also made in the petition to defer or impose a moratorium on the payment of the for this period prescribed, for the students whose parents opt for such deferment. No penalty or additional charge must be levied by the schools, it is prayed. No student should be struck out of their enrollment from the schools due to non-payment of fees, the petition further adds.

It is stated that the petitioners were constrained to approach the Supreme Court seeking protection of the fundamental right to life and education guaranteed under the Constitution of India.

Many students enrolled up till Class XII are facing dire situations and being deprived of this right on account of financial hardships posed due to the pandemic and the lockdown.

It is pointed out that varying orders have been passed by State governments and the reliefs granted by different High Courts have also been inconsistent. Therefore, there is a hostile discrimination created as regards the protection of the student's rights.

On the issue of school-fee waiever, the petitioners point out that the reliefs given by High Courts across the country have not been uniform
On the issue of school-fee waiever, the petitioners point out that the reliefs given by High Courts across the country have not been uniform

The manner in which online classes are conducted and the students from economically weaker sections are unable to benefit from the same due to lack of resources is also touched upon in the plea. The plea adds,

"Children and students might be exposed to hazards for the online education and the need for uniform and safer guidelines all over the country for implementation of the online education has become necessary, faiilure to do so by the competent authorities may result in innumerous cases of side effects of such uncontrolled and non regulated online education for the lacs of students country wide."

The petitioners who hail from eight different States also invoke the principle of parens patriae in pleading for waivers and moratoriums as regards the payment of school fees.

"It is imperative to note that the doctrine of 'parens patriae' is applicable to the common people of the State who are undisputredly the victims of this calamity and the Central and State governments being the guardians of its residents must assume the role of parents and take all necessary steps to protect the rightsand interests of its citizens."

Therefore, the petitioners have approached the Supreme Court to address their grievances as regards the payment of school fees during this time.

The petition has been filed through Advocate Mayank Kshirsagar while it has been drawn by Advocate Pankhuri and settled by Advocate Siddharth Shankar Sharma.

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