The Supreme Court ruled that the Statutory Authorities formed under the Disaster Management Act of 2005 do not have the authority to deal with the subject of private unaided school fee structures.
By: Sargam Vohra, BA.LLB , IIMT
The bench, which included Justices AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari, made the observation. When approving the appeal filed by Private School fees, which included a reduction of fees limited to 70% of tuition fees by schools affiliated with the Central Board of Secondary Education, the court made this observation and 60% from schools affiliated with the Rajasthan Board of Secondary Education, owing to a reduction in the syllabus by the respective boards as a result of the pandemic (lockdown) beginning in March 2020.
School management argued before the Supreme Court that no clause of the Disaster Management Act of 2005, the Rajasthan Epidemic Diseases Act of 2020, or the Rajasthan Schools (Regulation of Fee) Act authorises the State Government to reduce the amount of fees that private schools must receive.
The state defended the order, claiming that as one of the steps under the Act of 2005, it has the authority to alleviate the fears of parents and to develop the capacity of stakeholders.
“Having regard to the purport of the Act of 2005, it is unfathomable as to how the State Authorities established under the stated Act can arrogate unto themselves power to issue directions to private parties on economic aspects of legitimate subsisting contractual matters or transactions between them inter se. In any case, the impugned order has not been issued by the State Authority referred to in the Act of 2005. It is not enough to say that the same was issued under the directions of the Chief Minister of the State. For, the Chief Minister is only the Chairperson (Ex officio) of the State Disaster Management Authority established under Section 14 of the Act of 2005. Suffice it to observe that there is no provision in the Act of 2005 which concerns or governs the subject of interdicting the school fee structure fixed under the Act of 2016,” the court said referring to the provisions of the act.
To justify its order, the State argued that the general provision in Section 4(2)(g) allowing the government to control or limit the operation of offices, government and private institutions, and educational institutions in the state, did not grant the state government the authority to decide on the fee structure of the unaided private school in question.
“The measures enunciated in Section 4 of the Act of 2020 in no way deal with the “tariffs” of air, rail, road, hospital, temporary accommodation. It only enables the Authority to prohibit any usage or activities which the Government considers sufficient to spread or transmit epidemic diseases and for that purpose to inspect various places suspected of being infected with such diseases. Indeed, it can regulate or restrict the functioning of offices, Government and private and educational institutions in the State. That, however, would be only in respect of manner of its use and its timings including to observe standard operating procedures to ensure that epidemic diseases do not transmit or spread on account of activities carried out therein. That power to regulate cannot be invoked to control the tariffs, fees or cost of goods and services and in particular economic aspects of contractual matters between two private parties or so to say school fees of private unaided schools. Accordingly, even the last point urged by the State to justify the impugned order dated 28.10.2020 falls to the ground,” the court said.