P& H HC says no student name to be struck off rolls till parent’s plea on financial status is decided

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The single bench judgment, according to the appeal, provides no mechanism to check and verify the “actual expenditure” while allowing the schools to charge their “actual expenditures”.

THE PUNJAB and Haryana High Court Monday reiterated that no student’s name will be struck off from the rolls of any private school due to the non-payment of fee during the pendency of any application filed by their parents before the school management or the schools regulatory body for waiver or concession due to any financial difficulty.

The division bench of Chief Justice Ravi Shanker Jha and Justice Arun Palli issued a notice in the appeals filed by the state government and a group of parents against a single bench decision, which last month allowed private schools in the state — whether conducting online classes or not — to collect the tuition fee for the period of the Covid-19 induced lockdown.

The single bench in its ruling last month had also ordered that any parent, who is unable to pay the fee can file an application along with the necessary proof about their financial status before the schools, which were asked to look into it sympathetically and give concession or exempt the entire fee. In case of an unfavourable order, the parent can then approach the Regulatory Body constituted under the Punjab Regulation of fee of Un-aided Educational Institutions Act, 2016.

Ordering that no child will be deprived of attending the schools and online class for non-payment of fee, the bench on June 30 had also said that the direction will remain subject to a parent moving an application to the school and the final decision of such application.

The division bench on Monday said the names of those students will not be struck off from the rolls whose parents have filed applications before the school management seeking waiver or concession of the fee and subsequently have filed appeal before the regulatory authority in case their plea before the school management was not accepted. The regulatory body has also been asked to pass orders on any such application filed by a parent expeditiously.

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The state government in a press release described the order as “a major relief” for the parents of the students, who have expressed financial difficulty in paying the fee for the lockdown period and whose wards were facing the threat of being removed from the schools.

The press note also mentioned that the court was inclined to only issue notice on the appeals but passed the interim order only after the Advocate General Atul Nanda expressed his apprehension regarding the impact of the judgment passed by the single bench.

Regarding charges other than the tuition fee, the single bench had last month said that school managements will work out their actual expenditure incurred under the ‘annual charges’ head for the period they remain closed and recover only genuine expenditure incurred by them including actual transport charges and actual building charges.

The government earlier had allowed only those schools to collect tuition fees which were conducting online classes. While all the schools had been also asked to defer the last date for depositing admission fees, the government had also prohibited them from taking other charges like transport, building expenses during the period of closure. The orders were challenged before the High Court by various school managements, including Independent Schools Association and Punjab Schools Welfare Association.

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In the appeal against the single bench decision, the state government has argued that the single bench has completely ignored the fact that the government of Punjab had been constrained to issue orders directing private schools to charge only tuition fee, in respect of online education provided by them, in order to mitigate the emergent hardship faced by the parents due to the Covid-19 crisis.

The single bench judgment, according to the appeal, provides no mechanism to check and verify the “actual expenditure” while allowing the schools to charge their “actual expenditures”. Thus, there are practical difficulties in the enforceability and implementation of the impugned order and judgment, it states.

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