Top schools in Delhi charge anywhere between Rs. 1.5 lakh and Rs. 2 lakh, including tuition fee and admission, for a seat in nursery class. Then there is the capitation fee or donation which could range from `5 to `15 lakh, but remains unaccounted for. A well-known school in the city, which is looking for students with ‘integrity, energy and curiosity’ is demanding a registration fee of `10,000 alone for the 2016-17 admission seasons.
On December 1, Delhi government passed three bills to regulate and refund excess fees at private institutions in an attempt to bring major reform in the education system. However, Agarwal contended that the Delhi School (Verification of Accounts and Refund of Excess Fee) Bill was a watered-down version favouring the private unaided schools. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had invited Agarwal earlier this year to discuss regulation of the fee structure. Agarwal, who presented the draft legislation on fee regulation to the Kejriwal Government in June, is apprehensive about the effectiveness of these Acts controlling the price hike. He argued that the Act appears to presuppose the fact that fee hike by private schools is per se legal and valid unless the same is challenged through a complaint and is set aside by the committee. Questions were also raised about the credibility of the Directorate of Education in handling the admission process and maintaining transparency.
There is no provision in the Act that enables a complainant to demand a school to stop charging fee that is unjustified. Besides, it would not be an easy task for any parent to make a complaint because under the new law they need the support of parents of at least 20 students for that, Agarwal pointed out.
Referring to model acts like the Tamil Nadu (Regulation of Collection of Fee) Act, 2009, he said the Act has a stipulation of the prior approval of the committee before fee hike and, once approved, it cannot be further hiked up to three years. However, the legislation passed by the AAP Government has put the entire burden on the complainant, exposing the risk of being victimised.
The draft bill had proposed that if the committee is satisfied that the school has collected fee more than what was determined by the committee, it shall direct the concerned unaided private school to refund the excess amount charged with 9 per cent per interest within one month. The committee shall recommend cancellation of recognition or approval.
The AAP legislation passed is surprisingly silent on these issues. No time limit has been proposed for disposal of complaints. “The schools shall thus continue to enjoy its free hand at least throughout the process which has enough scope for inordinate delays,” says Agarwal.
Confrontations between the schools and parents over nursery admission came to the forefront in real sense from 1997 onwards when the 5th Pay Commission was implemented, and private unaided schools hiked fees to “unreasonable” levels. Several petitions were filed in courts and committees set up to bring transparency and make the schools accountable. Of particular concern were the admission criteria fixed by different schools. But a lasting solution continues to elude the stakeholders.