Gujarat High Court
By Manas Dasgupta*
Ahmedabad: Generally treated as the whipping boy, the private schools in Gujarat have scored a major victory in the High Court in their ongoing war against the state government restraining the school managements from recovering fees from the students.
The High court in its order on Friday rejected the state government’s July 16 notification asking the school managements not to charge fees from the parents till the schools physically reopen after the end of the Corona pandemic. The management in protest discontinued online education which it decided to restart after three days in the “larger interest of the students.”
The High Court which said the detail order would be released after a few days, disagreed with the state government that the school managements did not need to charge fees from the parents of the students for imparting education online because the schools were saving on may overhead costs since the schools were not functioning. The court felt that while issuing the notification, the state government had failed to realize the problems of the teachers and recognize the problems the school managements faced in paying salary to the teachers for conducting online classes if they did not recover payments from the
Simultaneously asking the school managements not to discontinue online education as they did last week, the court directed the school managements and the government to hold discussions among themselves as well as the organisations of parents to arrive at reasonable limits of fees taking care of the interests of both the teachers and the parents.
While the school managements were happy over the judgement, a section of the parents who had demanded the state government’s action against the school managements were enraged and wanted the state government to approach the Supreme Court against the High Court’s order. The state government which so far stood with the parents, however, has decided to dump the parents now. The education minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama announced on Friday evening that the state government would implement the High Court’s order and soon hold talks with the school managements for finalizing fees structure afresh. He pointed out that the government’s order of April 13 still hold good in which it had asked the school managements not to compel the parents to pay fees till September who had suffered economic losses in the lockdown and financially were not in a position to clear the fees till their conditions improved.
In an attempt to turn the table on the BJP government in the state, which apparently had earlier favoured the parents against the school managements on fees issue keeping an eye on the coming elections to the local self-government bodies including the municipal corporations, municipalities and the district and taluka panchayats, the state Congress blamed the government for the High Court’s stand in favour of the managements. “The state government failed to take timely decision to provide relief to the parents suffering from lockdown and kept dragging its feet till July 16 by which time more than 70 per cent of the parents have already cleared the fees under pressure from the schools,” the state Congress spokesman Manish Doshi said. Accusing the state government of giving “indirect support” to the school managements, Doshi said the government was actually “clandestinely helping the managements against the parents and challenged the BJP administration to go to the Supreme Court to protect the interests of the poor parents.
The school – government war had been hotting up since April when several parents’ organisations in the state launched agitations
against the schools asking for payment of fees though the schools did not open due to the Corona pandemic. The parents held the view that the school managements were saving huge expenses against electricity bills, building maintenance, activities charges, transportation expenses and several other overhead costs since the schools were physically closed. They also maintained that the managements could pay the wages of the teachers from the school funds fattened from the huge profits the schools make every year. After the managements refused to concede, the parents approached the state government for a decision which ruled in their
favour and restrained the managements from charging any fees till the schools physically open for which there is still no indication.
While taking the decision, the state government failed to take into account the expenses the school managements incurring in preparing the non-existent infrastructure for online education, the salary to its staff including teachers, technical staff and even their staff transport operators who otherwise would lose their jobs if the parents did not paid fees.
Speaking on behalf of the school managements association, Bhaskar Patel said the interests of all the stakeholders must be protected keeping the students at the centre of the entire issue. He agreed that the school managements should not demand “unreasonable fees,” but felt the impasse was created because the state government failed to realize the problems the school managements, the teachers and the staff faced in continuing online education without charging any reasonable amount of fees from the parents.
*The writer is a senior journalist