The court noted that fees related to expenditure incurred on activities like sports, transportation and other developments stand completely exempted by the government's April 17 order.
Providing e-education is no-child’s play and efforts made by a teacher giving online classes are more than those required in the physical classroom, the Delhi High Court has observed while refusing to direct private schools not to charge tuition fees during the lockdown period.
The court said it requires extensive infrastructural adjustments, including all incidental expenses in arranging access to online platforms over which education could be provided and “to suggest that, having made all these arrangements, schools should not be permitted to charge tuition fees, would be bordering on absurdity”.
A bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice C Hari Shankar, conducting the hearing through video conferencing, refused to entertain a petition seeking direction to the private schools not to charge tuition fees from the students keeping in view the present situation arising out of COVID-19, at least during the lockdown period.
The plea, filed by a practicing lawyer, also sought to set aside or modify Delhi government’s April 17 order to the extent that tuition fees, if any, be charged after an appropriate and reasonable time from the re-opening of the schools.
The court said the Delhi government order notes the effort by several private schools to disseminate education online as a welcome step which is aimed at ensuring that students do not suffer in their curricular activities during the 2020-21 academic session.
“We wholeheartedly endorse this sentiment. Judicial notice may be taken of the painstaking efforts, made by schools and teachers, in providing education, and holding classes, through online platforms. The effort in physically teaching students, in a regular classroom, cannot even remotely be compared with the effort that the teacher has to expend, in providing online education,” the bench said.
The court added: “It is a matter of common knowledge that, in doing so, the effort required to be put in, by the teacher, and the strain to which the teacher subjects herself, or himself, is tremendous, and the efforts of teachers – referred to, often, as the noblest among all noble professions – require to be commended in the highest terms.
“We unhesitatingly place, on record, our wholehearted appreciation, of the efforts of teachers, and schools, towards this end.”
The court said the submission of petitioner advocate Prashant Kumar that no tuition fees be charged by schools during the lockdown as the institutions are closed is “fundamentally misconceived”.
“So long as schools are disseminating education online, they are certainly entitled to charge tuition fees. Rather, the expenditure involved in disseminating education online may, conceivably, be much greater than that involved in classroom teaching. Providing e-education is no child’s play…,” the court said in its 21-page order.
Delhi government standing counsel Ramesh Singh apprised the court that the April 17 order prohibits schools from denying access to online classes to students whose parents are unable to pay the fees due to financial crisis in the lockdown period.
The court noted that fees related to expenditure incurred on activities like sports, transportation and other developments stand completely exempted by the government’s April 17 order.
However, it does not exempt students from the requirement of payment of tuition fees for the simple reason that tuition fees cover salary, establishments and curricular activities, the expenditure where on continues to be incurred by schools, even during the period of lockdown, and before they are able to resume normal work, the court noted.
“Money does not grow on trees, and unaided schools, who received no funds from the government, are entirely dependent on fees, to defray their daily expenses. We, therefore, find that, in allowing unaided schools to charge tuition fees, whereby expenses incurred on salary, establishments and curricular activities may be defrayed by them, the impugned order dated April 17, 2020, strikes a wholesome balance, with which we are ill-inclined to interfere,” the court said.
The court observed that consequent on the global devastation wrought by the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic, to which India is no exception, the executive administration has had to take certain hard-hitting decisions and to put in place a slew of curbs, restraints and containments to minimise the societal effect of the viral pandemic.
“It is incumbent, on every member of the populace, to be aware of the forbidding nature of the struggle, between man and microbe, in which each one of us is a participant, willing or unwilling.
“A joint, cohesive and concerted effort, alone, can result in success in this struggle. This would involve, in its wake, certain sacrifices, which, within the peripheries of the law, each one of us has to make. We cannot afford, in such a situation, to balk at inconveniences,” it said.