School fee hikes loot parents; AAP govt only blowing its own trumpet: Child rights' lawyer

Consistent fight against arbitrary fee hike should continue. Education comes under the Concurrent list and this is an all-India problem.

Debobrat Ghose May 03, 2016 17:00:22 IST
School fee hikes loot parents; AAP govt only blowing its own trumpet: Child rights' lawyer

- Unaided private schools hike fees exorbitantly every year.
- For a single admission, unaccounted donation of Rs 3 lakh to Rs 15 lakh is taken illegally. No receipt is given.
- Money is taken on several other heads.
- No relief in terms of refund of hiked fee.

This is how parents are looted and compelled to cut down their expenditure on other essentials in order to fund their child’s education. Nothing much has changed in the national capital since the April 1997, when the first PIL against this menace was filed. For the first time in India, the middle class had come out in large numbers on the streets of the national capital protesting against the fee hike by the private schools. The movement began under the umbrella of ‘Dilli Abhivavak Mahasangh’ (Delhi Parents’ Association) from Rohni and within three months’ it reached its peak — there was massive uproar, road blockades, demonstrations, gheraoes, etc.

The grievance of thousands of aggrieved parents was taken up by lawyer-activist Ashok Agarwal, who filed a PIL in the Delhi High Court against the exorbitant hike in school fees and fought their cases free of cost. Two decades on, the issue of fee hike continues to haunt parents.

In a freewheeling chat with Firstpost, Agarwal, a child rights’ lawyer, founder of ‘Social Jurist’ – a lawyers’ collective — and the man who fought for getting reservation for children from economically weaker sections (EWS) in private schools, today strongly feels that without a complete reform in the education system, parents would continue to suffer.

You have been consistently raising voice against arbitrary fee hike by private schools for years. How do these schools exploit the parents?

It’s always a nightmare for the parents before the beginning of a new academic session in April as unaided private schools hike fees exorbitantly. Next, while giving admission to new students, a large number of schools take huge donations, ranging from Rs three lakh to Rs 15 lakh, for a single admission; and parents offer it with folded hands. It’s purely illegal income for schools as no receipt is issued against the payment made. Then every year a student has to pay development fee. Imagine the amount a school collects under this head and what development they do? Then there are fees for computer, labs, etc. In 1997, when I filed the first PIL, we found a case in which money was taken by a school under 54 heads! It’s a big nexus. While parents are looted, schools make easy money in crores. Governments have miserably failed to prevent this menace.

What made you file the first PIL against the fee hike by private schools in Delhi?

It all began in 1997 when unaided private schools in Delhi hiked fees from 40 percent to 400 percent in anticipation of the 5th Pay Commission recommendations. For the first time parents’ association was formed to counter the exorbitant hike and they came to me. I filed a PIL and fought the case free of cost. In October 1998, the High Court gave a historic judgment in our favour. The then BJP government in Delhi supported our cause in the court. Justice Santosh Duggal Committee that scrutinized documents and balance-sheets of schools, in its report strongly criticized them.

School fee hikes loot parents AAP govt only blowing its own trumpet Child rights lawyer

Ashok Agarwal. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

What was the impact?

Though nothing much has changed in Delhi, due to our PIL and consistent action, awareness was created. Subsequently, Tamil Nadu came up with fee regulation act in 2009, followed by Maharashtra in 2011 and Rajasthan in 2013 to keep this menace in check.

Private unaided schools give an argument that they are compelled to hike fee almost every year as they have to pay an increased salary to teachers and staff. How far is it justified?

This is an excuse that schools use to hike fees. Barring a few schools, do others pay the teachers well? They equally exploit the teachers and the staff. The schools already have surplus fund with them in crores of rupees, but instead of using it they are multiplying it. Even if a fee hike is required, say Rs 40 per student, the schools will raise it by Rs 400. They are unabashedly looting everyone from parents to government. This arbitrary hike leads to commercialization.

The Delhi government led by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has placed advertorials in major dailies and has claimed that it’s “For the first time, private schools roll back fee, four schools roll back fees in 15 days”—which is unprecedented. How far is it true?

It’s not true. Through advertisements the Delhi government has been blowing its own trumpet. From 1997 onwards, I’ve myself got large amount of excess fee (in crores) refunded to parents. The advertorials are misleading people. Whatever refund or rollback has been taking place is due to the recent Delhi High Court order that said the schools built on land allotted by Delhi Development Authority (DDA) cannot hike the fee without prior permission from government. It also asked the Directorate of Education (DoE) to ensure compliance of the terms in the letter of allotment.
This judgment came on a PIL filed by my colleague advocate Khagesh Jha for an NGO called Justice for All. In fact, it was way back in 2004, I had handed over a copy of this DDA’s land allotment letter to Supreme Court, and after so many years it has come into effect. Now, referring to a SC judgment in Modern School vs Union of India, the HC has ordered that the unaided private schools are bound to comply with the stipulations in the letter. It’s a relief for the parents who have to face the brunt every year. This is how the rollback has taken place and the Delhi government has been beating its own drum. Instead of acting like a government, the Kejriwal government is acting like an activist.

As a member of Aam Admi Party’s National Executive, you had drafted two bills on education for Kejriwal government. What happened to those?

Let me be clear, I’m no more with AAP.

I resigned from National Executive when I found that the movement was becoming directionless, causing doubts in the minds of the people. Many members including me felt the party had been functioning like a ‘private limited company’.

The first draft bill was on nursery school admission. It was accepted and they have introduced it. The Right to Education (RTE) has been extended below six years of age. It’s really helpful for the parents. The second one was P (private) Regulation Bill, which the AAP initially accepted but later changed it into P Verification Bill, which is ultimately in favour of schools.

What is your opinion about the three amendments made by Delhi government in the Delhi School Education (DSE) Act 1973 in December 2015, to which Kejriwal mentioned it as “landmark amendments”? Has it helped the aggrieved parents?

The Verification of Accounts and Refund of Excess Fee Act has given right to schools to take money (read extort money) from parents. According to it, if a parent lodges complain against it, the government will get it verified through an audit at the yearend. Most laughable aspect of it is that if it’s found that the school authorities have taken the money home, only then action would be taken and the parent would get a refund or else no. It means giving a free hand to schools to loot. In the DSE (Amendment) Bill, the government deleted Section 10 (1), which guarantees that the employees of recognized private schools get salaries and other benefits at par with government schools. This is detrimental to private school teachers and in a way legalizing exploitation of teachers.

Our experience says once a school charges fee from parents, it becomes impossible to get it refunded.

Could the Kejriwal government do anything constructive in preventing hike in school fees?

No. Neither the previous government did anything nor has the present AAP government taken any strong step. They lack fundamental understanding of the issue. The picture is grim and only propaganda is taking place. As a result the middle class is trying to find out ways to cut expenditure on food, clothes and living in order fund a child’s education, which is quite unfortunate.

Do you see any relief for the parents from fee hike?

No, not at present under the existing circumstances. There is a need for an overall reform in the education system. We ought to develop a strong alternative to private schools in the government sector. Consistent fight against arbitrary fee hike should continue. Education comes under the Concurrent list and this is an all-India problem. The Centre should step in, which is not happening.

I’ve written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Can you elaborate on what have you written to the PM?

I’ve demanded radical reforms in school education through enactment of central legislation. Five demands have been made – enact a national law mandating public servants to send their children to public funded schools; a central law regulating fee in unaided private schools; legislation mandating private schools to pay their teachers at par with state-run schools; bring all minority schools within the ambit of right to education; and amend RTE Act, 2009 to extend benefits to EWS students up to class XII instead of class VIII.

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