Given how private schools outperform government ones—the latest ASER shows the number of class 3 students with class 2-level reading competence in private schools is twice that in government schools—you would think the government should make it easier for private schools to flourish. But the Supreme Court’s order on Monday, that private unaided schools in Delhi that have been allotted public land can’t increase tuition fees without the approval of the Delhi government’s directorate of education (DoE), achieves the exact opposite. If schools were to shut down and vacate the land—as the apex court has opined those resisting such curbs on administrative freedom should do—it is not difficult to imagine how disastrous it would be for students. Worrisome as the SC’s stance is, blame poor policy for bringing the matter to such a pass.
To be sure, the SC upheld the 2016 verdict of the Delhi High Court, but the HC verdict itself is based on a 2004 judgment of the Supreme Court that draws upon the Delhi School Education (DSE) Act and Rules, 1973, and specific clauses in the Delhi Development Authority’s (DDA) letters of allotment of land to schools that allow the government to regulate fee hikes. While Section 17(3) of the DSE Act makes it mandatory for recognised schools to file a full statement of the fees with the DoE before the academic year commences and forbids them from charging any excess fees without the “prior approval of the director (of education)”, clause 16 of the sample letters of allotment reiterates the “prior DoE sanction” requirement and makes the DSE Act provisions and “other instructions issued from time to time” binding on them.
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The apex court, in its 2004 judgment in the matter of Modern School vs Union of India & Others, ruled that the DoE had to ensure that the terms of the letters of allotment were complied with and was to take appropriate action if there was non-compliance. While the DDA, a body under the Union ministry of urban development, being allowed to exert so much influence over what is clearly a concern of education policy is a contentious matter in itself, the larger problem is that the government putting up hurdles to private educational institutions doesn’t bode well. Not allowing a private school to increase fees and expand infrastructure or hire more/better-quality staff endangers education in the country. More so when government schools, with a focus on infrastructure development and fat salaries for teachers—a government school teacher typically gets 2.5 times the salary of a private school one—have achieved so little.