The Gujarat High Court has upheld the Gujarat Self-financed Schools (Regularisation of Fees) Act, which imposes caps on the fees that private schools can charge, as legally valid. In some cases, the charges of fee-gouging by private schools have proved true—for instance, the Justice Anil Dev Singh Committee had found that more than 400 schools in the national capital increased fees, pleading increased expenses, including due to having to match Pay Commission recommendations, though they had adequate funds to meet new expenses. Against such a backdrop, the Gujarat law and HC judgment would sound welcome. But the fact is that it is only a handful of private schools that charge exorbitant fees. Successive ASER reports have shown that parents in periurban and rural areas are increasingly turning to private schools, where learning outcomes are better and fees are affordable. The Gujarat law could end up impeding access to education in the state if, with the room to pass on some of the costs to parents severely crimped, private schools serving the less well-off are forced to close down. To be sure, many such schools may still be far from breaching the caps the law has set, and there is also a window for revision of the fee structure. But the law nevertheless hangs like the proverbial sword of Damocles on such schools once they approach the cap.
Besides, with the schools expected to shoulder part of the social welfare obligations of the government, thanks to the Right to Education provisions, it is patently unfair that government should legislate to cap their fees. There are many other ways to check fee-gouging. For instance, the government can conduct case-by-case examination of schools reported by parents’ associations or education activists for charging exorbitant fees. With the mushrooming of private schools, the market itself also provides a solution.