New Delhi: The Delhi government’s proposal to amend a provision of the Delhi School Education (DSE) Act, 1973, and the enactment of the Delhi School (Verification of Accounts and Refund of Excess Fee) Bill, 2015, may create trouble for the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Agitated private school teachers and Right to Education (RTE) activists are planning to battle the change through massive protests.
The DSE (Amendment) Bill, 2015, tabled in the Assembly by Human Resources Development Minister Manish Sisodia on 20 November proposes to delete Section 10 (1) of the Act, which guarantees that the employees of recognised private schools get salaries and other benefits equal to their counterparts at government schools.
Educationists and RTE raise serious concerns.
“The proposed amendment completely takes away the right to pay parity of all the employees of recognised private schools guaranteed by Section 10(1) of the DSE Act, 1973, which mandates that pay and other benefits of the employees of a recognised private school shall not be less than those paid to their counterparts working in government schools.
“On the basis of this provision of the law, all employees of recognised private schools are legally entitled to claim benefits under the Central Pay Commission revised from time to time. If this proposed amendment is passed, no employee would be entitled to claim benefits of pay and emoluments under the Seventh Pay Commission that will come into force with effect from 1 January 2016,” advocate Ashok Agarwal, who is also the president of All-India Parents Association, told Firstpost.
The 42-year-old provision, he said, that was achieved after a long struggle has been taken away by the AAP government in one stroke through the proposed amendment bill. “The people of Delhi voted (Chief Minister) Arvind Kejriwal’s party to power for protection of the workers’ rights and not to snatch them, and that too in the manner it is being done. Even the previous Congress and BJP governments in the state did not ever think of or attempt to take away such a valuable right of equal pay and dignified livelihood,” he said alleging that “this apparently has been done at the behest of the private school managements lobby”.
Reminded that the government argues that it has done so because it has “no intention of infringing on the autonomy of private schools,” Agarwal reacted strongly saying that “You (the government) are state, not a private body. You have a duty to check commercialisation and exploitation”.
“Handsome salary is directly linked to quality education. You are defeating the very objection for which you have been established,” he said.
But what are the consequences of dropping Section 10(1) of the DSE Act, 1973?
“A teacher is not a workman either under the Industrial Dispute Act, 1947 or the Minimum Wages Act, 1948. Therefore, there is no protection of their service. They cannot even claim minimum wage as a matter of right. Hence, once the amendment bill is passed in the assembly, their status would be reduced to a domestic servant because there is every possibility of reduction of their salaries on some excuse and court may not be of any help,” he explained.
Shantha Sinha, member of India Campaign for Education, a national forum that is opposing the amendments proposed by the Delhi government, said, “The proposed amendment bill will adversely impact the dignity of teachers. They are as qualified as other professionals such as doctors, engineers and lawyers.”
Warning the government that it will have to face stiff resistance from the people of the city if it goes ahead with the proposed amendment, a teacher said on condition of anonymity, “Arvind Kejriwal has played a cruel fraud with thousands of innocent teachers and other staff of recognised private schools by snatching from them the right to pay parity with their counterparts in government schools.”
Saddened with the government’s move, another lay teacher said, “This is the only dignified profession for women. With the deletion of the section, our salary would be reduced. How will we manage all expenses?”
Fee Regulation Bill
The second controversial bill is Delhi School (Verification of Accounts and Refund of Excess Fee) Bill, 2015 — also known as the Fee Regulation Bill. Introducing it in the 70-member assembly, Sisodia said, “People say that fee of a private school nowadays is more than their salaries, making private schooling for their kids a nightmare. This bill will ensure regulation and accountability.”
According to the bill, a committee headed by a retired high court judge or retired district judge or a retired officer not below the rank of principal secretary to the Delhi government will be constituted to verify schools’ accounts. If a school is found charging extra fee or diverting money, the committee can direct refund of excess fee and ask schools to re-fix its fees. The schools will also have to submit audited financial return along with proposed fee structure for next session. Schools that fail to comply may face jail term or fine.
But Agarwal and others say it gives “absolute powers to unaided recognised private schools to increase fees arbitrarily instead of controlling it” and “loot the hapless parents in whatever way the school managements like”.
“It fails to cater to the mischief of exorbitant and unjustified fee-hike for the following reasons: first, it presupposes that fee-hike by private schools is per se legal and valid unless the same is challenged by a complaint and is set aside by the committee. If we look at the existing acts on private unaided school-free regulation, particularly the Tamil Nadu (Regulation of Collection of Fee) Act, 2009, there is a stipulation of prior approval by the committee before fee-hike and the increased fee, once approved, cannot be further hiked up to three years. But here, the proposed bill has put the entire burden on the complainant.
“Second, this bill suffers from various practical anomalies. The burden has been cast upon the aggrieved parent to move in compliant. This onerous task would make the parent, and ultimately the child, amenable to be subjected to victimisation. Further, once a complaint is made, no time limit has been stipulated for disposal of the same by the committee, making it liable to be reduced to futility by sheer lapse of time. Even after a complaint has been decided, there is enough room for delay as the school can file objections and even after consideration of the same and final decision by the committee, there is a provision of appeal to the director, for disposal of which, no time limit has been stipulated. The school will thus continue to enjoy its free hand at least throughout the process which has enough scope for inordinate delays. It would not be an easy task for any parent to lodge complaints because they need a minimum support of parents of 20 students to 1/5th of that of the total number of students in a class to be able to file a complaint.”
The Delhi High Court in its decision dated 12 August 2011 in Delhi Abhibhavak Mahasangh and others vs GNCTD and others (criminal writ petition number 7777/2009) had constituted Justice Anil Dev Singh Committee to look into the accounts of each school and find out whether the fee hike by private unaided schools on the pretext of the Sixth Central Pay Commission was justified. The High Court had further directed that if the fee-hike was found to be unjustified, it would be refunded by the school to parents along with 9 percent interest. Justice Dev Singh Committee has so far indicated more than 450 schools and the refundable amounts cumulatively come to over Rs 250 crore. However, till date, not a single school has refunded the due amounts to the parents.
Even in 1997, when the parents had approached the High Court against fee-hike on the pretext of implementation of the Fifth Pay Commission, the High Court vide an interim order had permitted the schools to increase fee by up to 40 percent, resulting in recovery of over Rs 400 crore from the parents of Delhi, which was to be subject to the findings of Justice Santosh Duggal Committee and liable to be refunded if found unjustified. However, the working of the committee was “deliberately stifled by the Directorate of Education and the private schools”. As a result, no amount has been refunded till date.
“Thus, it is our experience that once a school charges fee from the parents, it becomes next to impossible to get it refunded,” said Agarwal.
The proposed bill everywhere talks about utilisation of funds in accordance with the provision of the DSEA, 1973, but it does not talk about determination and justifiability of fees charged. If one goes in terms of this bill, a complaint, if any, by parents can only be filed after at least 18 months from the date such fee is charged. Interestingly, parents cannot file a complaint or raise grievance, the moment, the fee is increased by a school. He has to wait till the audited accounts are finalised by a school.
Suppose, through proposed fee structure, a school has increased tuition fee by 25% for the next academic year 20016-17 and someone is aggrieved of that. The parents will have to wait for over a year to lodge a complaint because they have to see the fee charged from them is utilised or not. And if it is utilised, whether in accordance with the DSEA. In case, if it is not utilised, they will have to see whether it would amount to excess fee charge and become refundable.
“In a nutshell, the proposed bill is totally bogus and does not at all address the issue of arbitrary, exorbitant and unjustified fee hike,” the lawyer added.
Detention of students:
Now, schools can detain children till class 8.
Another amendment, through the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Delhi Amendment) Bill, 2015, proposes to remove Section 16 of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, which provides for non-detention of children till class 8.
“This move will demoralise children and promote their exploitation. Failing students and detaining them in the same were class were made a business. Schools used to extract money from children on pretext of promoting their wards to the next class. Section 16 was protecting students from exploitation. If a student fails, it not his failure but his teachers’,” contends Agarwal.
Sinha says, “The purpose of the RTE Act is to ensure children go to school, and not drop out. The impact of detention has often been that children drop out. At least 28 states already had a non-detention policy in some form when the RTE Act was implemented.”
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Updated Date: Dec 01, 2015 09:20:44 IST