The second controversial bill is Delhi School (Verification of Accounts and Refund of Excess Fee) Bill, 2015 — also known as the Fee Regulation Bill. Introducing it in the 70-member assembly, Sisodia said, “People say that fee of a private school nowadays is more than their salaries, making private schooling for their kids a nightmare. This bill will ensure regulation and accountability.”
According to the bill, a committee headed by a retired high court judge or retired district judge or a retired officer not below the rank of principal secretary to the Delhi government will be constituted to verify schools’ accounts. If a school is found charging extra fee or diverting money, the committee can direct refund of excess fee and ask schools to re-fix its fees. The schools will also have to submit audited financial return along with proposed fee structure for next session. Schools that fail to comply may face jail term or fine.
But Agarwal and others say it gives “absolute powers to unaided recognised private schools to increase fees arbitrarily instead of controlling it” and “loot the hapless parents in whatever way the school managements like”.
“It fails to cater to the mischief of exorbitant and unjustified fee-hike for the following reasons: first, it presupposes that fee-hike by private schools is per se legal and valid unless the same is challenged by a complaint and is set aside by the committee. If we look at the existing acts on private unaided school-free regulation, particularly the Tamil Nadu (Regulation of Collection of Fee) Act, 2009, there is a stipulation of prior approval by the committee before fee-hike and the increased fee, once approved, cannot be further hiked up to three years. But here, the proposed bill has put the entire burden on the complainant.
“Second, this bill suffers from various practical anomalies. The burden has been cast upon the aggrieved parent to move in compliant. This onerous task would make the parent, and ultimately the child, amenable to be subjected to victimisation. Further, once a complaint is made, no time limit has been stipulated for disposal of the same by the committee, making it liable to be reduced to futility by sheer lapse of time. Even after a complaint has been decided, there is enough room for delay as the school can file objections and even after consideration of the same and final decision by the committee, there is a provision of appeal to the director, for disposal of which, no time limit has been stipulated. The school will thus continue to enjoy its free hand at least throughout the process which has enough scope for inordinate delays. It would not be an easy task for any parent to lodge complaints because they need a minimum support of parents of 20 students to 1/5th of that of the total number of students in a class to be able to file a complaint.”
The Delhi High Court in its decision dated 12 August 2011 in Delhi Abhibhavak Mahasangh and others vs GNCTD and others (criminal writ petition number 7777/2009) had constituted Justice Anil Dev Singh Committee to look into the accounts of each school and find out whether the fee hike by private unaided schools on the pretext of the Sixth Central Pay Commission was justified. The High Court had further directed that if the fee-hike was found to be unjustified, it would be refunded by the school to parents along with 9 percent interest. Justice Dev Singh Committee has so far indicated more than 450 schools and the refundable amounts cumulatively come to over Rs 250 crore. However, till date, not a single school has refunded the due amounts to the parents.
Even in 1997, when the parents had approached the High Court against fee-hike on the pretext of implementation of the Fifth Pay Commission, the High Court vide an interim order had permitted the schools to increase fee by up to 40 percent, resulting in recovery of over Rs 400 crore from the parents of Delhi, which was to be subject to the findings of Justice Santosh Duggal Committee and liable to be refunded if found unjustified. However, the working of the committee was “deliberately stifled by the Directorate of Education and the private schools”. As a result, no amount has been refunded till date.
“Thus, it is our experience that once a school charges fee from the parents, it becomes next to impossible to get it refunded,” said Agarwal.
The proposed bill everywhere talks about utilisation of funds in accordance with the provision of the DSEA, 1973, but it does not talk about determination and justifiability of fees charged. If one goes in terms of this bill, a complaint, if any, by parents can only be filed after at least 18 months from the date such fee is charged. Interestingly, parents cannot file a complaint or raise grievance, the moment, the fee is increased by a school. He has to wait till the audited accounts are finalised by a school.
Suppose, through proposed fee structure, a school has increased tuition fee by 25% for the next academic year 20016-17 and someone is aggrieved of that. The parents will have to wait for over a year to lodge a complaint because they have to see the fee charged from them is utilised or not. And if it is utilised, whether in accordance with the DSEA. In case, if it is not utilised, they will have to see whether it would amount to excess fee charge and become refundable.
“In a nutshell, the proposed bill is totally bogus and does not at all address the issue of arbitrary, exorbitant and unjustified fee hike,” the lawyer added.