The Calcutta High Court on Tuesday ordered 145 private schools to offer a minimum 20 per cent reduction in fees across the board while directing that non-essential charges for use of facilities not availed of will not be permissible. Guardians of students of the 145 schools, mostly in an around the city, had moved petitions seeking a reduction in school fees since only online classes are being held during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
Directing that there will be no increase in fees during the financial year 2020-21, the court ordered that from April 2020 till the month following the one in which the schools reopen in the physical mode, all 145 schools will offer a minimum of 20 per cent reduction of fees across the board.
The division bench comprising justices Sanjib Banerjee and Moushumi Bhattacharya directed that non-essential charges for use of facilities like additional charges for laboratory, craft, sporting facilities or extracurricular activities or the like, which are not availed of, will not be permissible during the months that the schools have not functioned in the physical mode.
"There are many parents who are diverting a substantial part of their disposable resources, at a great personal sacrifice, to get their children admitted to high-end schools with superior educational infrastructure and amenities," Justice Bhattacharya separately observed in the order.
The judge said that such guardians would greatly benefit from a relaxation in the quantum of fees under the current financially-stressed times.
Session fees traditionally charged periodically will be permissible, the division bench directed but said that it will be subject to a maximum of 80 per cent of the quantum charged for the corresponding period in the financial year 2019-20.
The minimum figure of 20 per cent reduction in the monthly tuition fees will be on the basis of the tuition fees charged for the corresponding month in the previous financial year, it said.
The court made it clear that there will be no refund of the fees already paid.
"However, to the extent fees have already been paid which are in excess of the directions contained therein, suitable adjustments will be made over the remaining months of the financial year, unless the parents agree in writing otherwise," the court directed.
The bench said that for the financial year 2020-21, a maximum of five per cent excess of revenue over expenditure will be permissible and the balance excess should be passed on by way of general concession or special concession in individual cases of extreme distress.
"If any school makes a loss as a consequence of following these directions, such loss can be made up in course of the next two financial years, 2021-22 and 2022-23, if normal physical functioning resumes by March 31, 2021," the court ordered.
Paving the way for additional relief to parents facing financial distress in the current pandemic situation, the court directed that in addition to the across-the-board reduction, every school will entertain applications from parents or guardians for further reduction or waiver or exemption or delayed or installment payments.
Every application in such regard must be supported by the financial statements of the parents or guardians so as to justify the request and these should be certified by any qualified auditor, the court said.
The bench directed that with effect from December 8, 2020 all schools will be entitled to disallow students whose fees have not been paid in full in terms of this order and those who have not applied for reduction or waiver, adding that schools should ensure that this extreme step is taken only after exercising due care and caution.
The fees payable for every month and the other periodic charges, like session fees, for the entire financial year 2020-21 should be indicated by the individual schools and put up on the website to be set up by the first petitioner in the matter by October 31, 2020.
Moving the court, parents and guardians had submitted that institutions cannot be allowed to charge the usual fees despite no classes being conducted for a considerable period and, thereafter, classes being resumed on the online mode in some cases with very limited resources being used by the schools.
The court directed that the writ petitions will remain pending till the physical classes are resumed in the schools and the directions contained in the order are worked out completely.
The petitions will again appear for hearing on December 7, 2020, before the court to monitor the progress in the implementation of the directions contained, the division bench ordered.
(With PTI inputs)