The Supreme Court has come down hard on the balloonng fees of schools in the dreadful season of the pandemic. Given the inevitable closure of schools and the switchover to online instruction, the Bench (coram: AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari, JJ) has ruled that schools must reduce fees not the least because their operational costs have come down with the suspension of various campus facilities.

The order will doubtless be welcomed by the guardians and, at another remove, stoke reservations among the school authorities. The Bench has made it explicit that the managements must be sensitive to the problems that people are facing because of the pandemic and simultaneosly help “students and parents in these harsh times”.

The court has observed that “in law, the school managements cannot be heard to collect fees in respect of activities and facilities which are, in fact, not provided to or availed of by its students due to circumctances beyond their control.” Not wholly unrelated must be the fact that the apex judiciary has welcomed the Rajasthan Schools Regulation of Fee Act to stop what it calls “profiteering” by the school managements.

Additionally, parents have been made integral to the process that fixes the fee structure in the state. The Court has rapped the school authorities generally on the knuckles, making it clear that charging fees in respect of activities in abeyance is “nothing short of indulging in profiteering and commercialisation”.

The critique is perfectly warranted because several of the private schools that have come up in recent times function as commercial enterprises with air-conditioned buses and classrooms. Of course, the quality of the instruction that is imparted may be quite a different story. Very pertinently has the court pointed out that “school managements must have saved overheads and the recurring cost on petrol, diesel, maintenance, water charges and stationery”.

The Bench has conceded that it is for the school authorities to “reschedule the payment of fees in such a way that not even a single student is left out or denied the opportunity of pursuing education, so as to effectuate the adage ~ live and let live”. Rightly has the court exposed the fiddle with overheads. It has made it clear that overheads and operational costs that have been saved for more than a year would be nothing but an amount undeservedly earned by the school without offering such facilities for more than a year.

Without insisting on a mathematical praxis, “we would assume that school managements have saved around 15 per cent of their annual fees”. Preeminently, the apex judiciary has exposed the canker of what it calls “profiteering” by imposing charges that have become largely irrelevant in the season of the pandemic and its frightful resurgence. The Supreme Court has spared a thought for the parent of the child in search of learning.