Delhi HC declines to entertain plea seeking waiver of school fees

Delhi High Court
Delhi High Court, File Photo

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday refused to entertain a PIL seeking waiver of tuition fees charged by schools for the month of August amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A division bench of the court presided by Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan refused to entertain the petition after noting that another Public Interest Litigation (PIL) with similar prayers was dismissed by the court earlier.

“This is clear misconduct of the court proceedings,” said the two-judge bench while expressing displeasure over not being appraised about the said dismissal. Following which the petitioner and counsel N. Pradeep Sharma sought withdrawal of the said petition and also tendered an apology.

The petition filed by Naresh Kumar while citing the interpretation of the force majeure clause in the present pandemic situation and sought waiver of the school fees.

It is a contractual provision allocating the risk of loss if performance becomes impossible or impracticable, especially as a result of an event that the parties could not have anticipated or controlled. A force majeure clause provides temporary reprieve to a party from performing its obligations under a contract upon occurrence of a force majeure event.

The petition states that the impact of the deadly coronavirus is developing day by day and supply chains are being significantly disrupted and businesses’ rights and obligations under contracts are coming into sharp focus.

“The students are facing several side effects and such online classes offered by schools have other medical and psychological implications which is against the concept of school education,” the plea said while adding that private school administrations have been demanding school fees and other charges without rendering any services.

It further said that the school admission form does not have any clause that in case of an adverse situation, the school would charge tuition fees for providing online classes. “The schools are duty-bound to follow and abide by the terms and conditions which are a part of school prospectus and if there is no force majeure clause in the school prospectus, demanding of tuition fee, without providing the actual education, is a violation of law in terms of a contract and also against the principle of natural justice,” the petitioner said.

“Some homework and class tests are required to be undertaken under the guidance of trained teachers so as to achieve, through the online way of teaching. It would be important to mention that private schools are either being run by the societies or trusts and are not doing any social service to society. Even otherwise, the school is a service provider and thus is covered under the Consumer Act also,” the plea said.

In April this year, the high court dismissed a petition seeking complete exemption from payment of any fees, including tuition fee, to schools during the period of lockdown (Naresh Kumar vs DoE).

Rejecting the plea, a division bench of the high court presided by Chief Justice Patel and Justice Jalan had then stated, “We cannot agree that during the period of lockdown, or during the period when online education is being provided by the schools, and availed of by students, tuition fees should be exempted.”

“So long as schools are disseminating education online, they are certainly entitled to charge tuition fees,” the bench had remarked while rejecting the contention of the petitioner that no tuition fee could be charged as the schools are “closed”.

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