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Directorate of education has no power to indefinitely postpone the collection of annual charges and development fees: High Court of Delhi

The powers of the Directorate of Education to regulate fees have been spelled out. The power to regulate the fees exists for the purpose of prevention of commercialization of education by private recognized unaided schools only. The power is to be exercised to ensure that there is no charging of capitation fees or profiteering by any of the private recognized unaided schools. Generating a reasonable surplus to augment its facilities and for other such purposes is a legitimate act that cannot be faulted with. This was held in ACTION COMMITTEE UNAIDED RECOGNIZED PRIVATE SCHOOLS. V. DIRECTORATE OF EDUCATION. [W.P.(C) 7526/2020] in the High Court of Delhi by a single bench consisting of JUSTICE JAYANT NATH.

Facts are that petitioner is said to be a registered association with approximately 450 private unaided schools functioning in Delhi. Orders were passed by the respondent which prevents private unaided recognized schools/members of the petitioner association from collecting a part of the fees i.e. Annual Charges and Development Fees even beyond the Lockdown period and deferring it till the physical opening of the schools.  The petitioner has filed a writ petition against the same.

The counsel for the petitioner contended  Department of Education i.e. the respondent has limited jurisdiction to regulate the fees, i.e. to prevent commercialization and profiteering and that the fundamental rights of the private unaided educational institutions under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution cannot be trampled upon in the present manner.

The counsel for the respondents have submitted, that the rationale behind the impugned order dated 18.4.2020 is to ameliorate to the extent possible the financial constraints being faced by parents and to obviate the possibility of a child being denied education due to the incapability of parents to defray the school fees.

The court made reference to the judgment of Delhi High court in Delhi Abhibhavak Mahasangh vs. Union of India & Ors., wherein it was held that “ Besides Section 4 of the Act which deals with grant of recognition it has to be kept in view that the Administrator under Section 3 is empowered to regulate education in all schools in Delhi in accordance with the provisions of the Act and Rules made thereunder. It has to be read in the Act and the Rules that the power of the Administrator to regulate education includes the power to curb commercialisation. Thus, if it is found that the fee and other charges are wholly unreasonable and exhorbitant and amount to commercialisation, it would be the duty of the Administrator to step in and check such an activity before taking the extreme step of withdrawal of recognition and other harsh steps”.

The court also made reference to the judgment of the Apex court in  Indian School, Jodhpur & Anr. vs. State of Rajasthan & Ors., wherein it was observed that “It is one thing to say that the State may regulate the fee structure of private unaided schools to ensure that the school Management does not indulge in profiteering and commercialization, but in the guise of exercise of that power, it cannot transcend the line of regulation and impinge upon the autonomy of the school to fix and collect “just” and “permissible” school fees from its students. It is certainly not an essential commodity governed by legislation such as Essential Commodities Act, 1955 empowering the State to fix tariff or price thereof”.

Considering the facts of the case and the legal precedents, the court observed that, the orders issued by the respondent to the extent that they forbid the petitioner/postpone collection of Annual Charges and Development Fees were illegal and ultra vires the powers of the respondent stipulated under the DSE Act and the Rules. Additionally, the court asked the petitioner to align themselves with the directions passed by the Supreme Court in the case of Indian School, Jodhpur & Anr. vs. State of Rajasthan & Ors.

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