Friday, March 21, 2008

Sixth pay commission & fee hike - Unaided private schools ready to exploit hapless parents

2008 may see the repeat of 1997. In 1997, the unaided private schools in Delhi exorbitantly hiked the fee and other charges from 40% to 400% in anticipation of fifth pay commission recommendations forcing the middle class parents to resort to agitation who felt cheated and found it unjust and unaffordable for most of them. The matter went to Hon’ble Delhi High Court by way of public interest litigation (PIL) and the Hon’ble High Court decided the matter finally in October 1998 issuing several directions to the government to ensure complete check on the commercialization of education in unaided private schools. The schools appealed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court against the High Court decision but the Hon’ble Supreme Court dismissed the appeal on 27.04.2004.

The most significant aspect of the Hon’ble Supreme Court judgment is that it has finally set at rest the controversy whether government has the authority to regulate the fee and other charges of unaided recognized private schools to prevent commercialization of education. The Hon’ble Supreme Court has categorically held that the government has the authority to regulate fee of unaided private schools.

In the wave of the High Court decision, the Delhi Government issued order dated 15.12.1999 laying down the methodology of determining the fee and other charges by the unaided private schools. The Delhi Government by another order constituted Fee Grievance Redressal Committee to deal with the complaints of the parents relating to fee hike.

Despite the High Court and the Supreme Court decisions and the Delhi Government orders, the exorbitant fee hike every year remained unabated. Only few parents dared to raise their voices while rest suffered in silence. The government, which has not only powers but also duty to check exploitation of hapless parents, simply remained a mute spectator and allowed the greedy school owners to commercialize education with impunity.

The current news reports are indicating that the sixth pay commission is likely to recommend an increase of up to 42% in the salaries and pension of central government employees. It is a welcome step but the unaided private schools should not be allowed to take undue advantage of the same. The academic year is going to start from April 01 and it is time to hike the fee and other charges notwithstanding whether the same is required or not. On the pretext of the contemplated recommendations of the sixth pay commission, the schools are getting ready to hike the fee and other charges from 100% to 400% which is bound to give a big jolt to the middle class parents. It is reminded that Articles 21 (Right to life with dignity) and 21-A (Right to education) of the Constitution mandate State to provide free and compulsory elementary education to all the children. The unaided private schools being the extended hands of the State are also obliged to follow this mandate.

The fact is that there is no need for most of the schools to hike fee and other charges on the ground of the contemplated sixth pay commission recommendations. All the schools have been hiking fee and other charges every year. Moreover, these schools have accumulated huge surplus money by charging students exorbitant fee and other charges during the past years. The inspection reports regarding more than 200 leading schools having been prepared by the Education Department of Government of Delhi during the last two years clearly support these facts. It is estimated that if the Supreme Court judgment is implemented, the present fee level will come down by 60%.
There is another aspect of the matter also. There are as many as 384 unaided private schools that have been allotted public lands on throwaway prices. One of the conditions of the allotment of the lands is that school shall not hike fee without prior permission of the Department of Education, Government of Delhi. Unfortunately, this condition has never been adhered to by any such school. Despite complaints to the Chief Minister of Delhi in this regard, the government is not moved at all.

The Government of Delhi must rise to the occasion and take steps in advance ensuring that the unaided private schools are not allowed to hike fee and other charges exorbitantly, unjustly and arbitrarily on the pretext of the contemplated recommendations of the sixth pay commission. The middle class parents should raise their voice to save them from the exploitation. It is a wake up call.
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By- Ashok Agarwal, Advocate & a Civil Rights Activist