High court upholds Gujarat law to regulate school fees
Ahmedabad: The Gujarat high court on Wednesday upheld the Gujarat Self-Financed Schools (Regulation of Fees) Act, 2017 that was passed by the state legislative assembly in March and ruled that private schools can’t engage in profiteering.
The ruling is a boost to the recently re-elected Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by chief minister Vijay Rupani.
A division bench comprising chief justice R. Subhash Reddy and justice V.M. Pancholi had in August reserved its order on a number of petitions filed by hundreds of self-financed schools that challenged the state government’s move to regulate fees through the Act.
The implementation of the law is likely to benefit 3.76 million students in Gujarat, according to a state government statement.
The division bench rejected all petitions challenging the state Act and said that it was within the state government’s powers to regulate fee structure for self-financed schools. It ordered the implementation of the Act from 2018.
Senior state minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama hailed the high court ruling as a ‘historical judgment’ and said the state government will ensure strict implementation of the law.
The Act prescribes an upper limit on annual fees of Rs15,000, Rs25,000 and Rs27,000 on primary, middle and high school education respectively.
The high court bench rejected the contention of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE)-affiliated schools that the state government cannot regulate them. The court also rejected similar petitions by education institutions managed by the minorities (both religious and linguistic) that sought exemption from the state law.
The Bill was introduced by the Rupani government in the budget session earlier this year with the aim of controlling the “exorbitant fees” charged by private schools in the absence of a strong law.
According to the Act, the state would be divided into four zones—Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot and Vadodara—and each zone will have a fees regulatory committee (FRC). Each committee is to be coordinated by district education officers. On a case by case basis, the schools that seek to hike their fees do so by approaching the FRC before which it will have to justify the increase. The FRC has been given powers to verify the justifications offered by private schools for the fees being charged by them.
In case of violations of the Act, schools will face punitive steps, which can even lead to their de-recognition.
“Now that the judgement has come we wish the government will ensure that the schools can function smoothly without having to compromise on the quality of school education in Gujarat which has started improving over the last decade,” the Association of Progressive Schools said in a statement.