The Hyderabad High Court on Monday raised hard questions about the exorbitant OTF ‘one-time fee’ of private schools in the city after a PIL claimed that some schools were collecting a fee of up to Rs 7 lakh per student during admission. The PIL was filed by the Hyderabad Schools Parents Association (HSPA), which claimed that this one time fee was over and above the regular fees of the school.
The division bench of Chief Justice Dilip B Bhosale and Justice A V Sesha Sai said, “There is a need to bring in regulatory mechanism to stop this ridiculous practice of OTF. If you want your people to flourish, you should start with schools and not colleges.”
Kalpana Ekbote, the counsel for the HSPA argued before the Court that the OTF is nothing, but banned capitation fee now brought in with a new name.
Last year, the Telangana government had appointed an Admission Fee Regulatory Committee to oversee the fee structures of private colleges and unaided institutions. The OTFs charged by schools in Hyderabad exceed the sums collected by some of the most expensive engineering and medical colleges in the country.
Referring to the Telangana government’s drive against errant professional colleges and the establishment of a fee regulatory committee, Justice Bhosale told the state counsel A. Sanjeev Kumar that the situation was grave after Kumar told the court that their own survey had revealed that 160 schools in Hyderabad are collecting OTF from Rs 50,000 to Rs 3 lakh.
Justice Bhosale wondered as to how parents from lower middle class would be able to afford such huge fee and brushed aside a justification from the counsel for Hyderabad Public School that they are raising fee only to pay UGC scales to their teachers. “Don’t justify your conduct,” the CJ said.
S Niranjan Reddy, another counsel who appeared for the protesting parents, told the court that some schools were collecting the OTF in the name of constructing new buildings. “There is a GO that allows schools to collect such fee, but it should not cross Rs 6,000,” he said. “In families where both the spouses are working, as much as 40 percent of their earnings are going towards school fees,” he added. He added that some schools were collecting Rs 7 to 8 lakh as OTF and this is much higher than the ones collected by even the best engineering colleges.
“On the other hand, owing to lack of quality as many as 4,000 government schools are shut and parents too would not prefer to send their wards to such institutions,” Niranjan Reddy quipped.
However, he brought to the notice of the court that some of the best schools, which are running without a profit motive, are not collecting more than Rs 30,000 to Rs 50,000 per annum. “Even HPS is collecting lesser fee,” he said stressing the point that quality need not be always accompanied by high tuition fees.
“Even in respect of regular school fee, we told the schools not to collect more than Rs 12,000 per annum, but many are collecting more than Rs 40,000,” government’s special counsel said. “We are expecting replies to show cause notices from errant schools and propose to slap penalties,” counsel Sanjeev added.
Telangana additional advocate general Ramachandra Rao told the court that their government was coming out with a foolproof KG to PG education policy that will solve all the vices. “Earlier, during the period of united AP, liquor lobbies were running the schools,” he said.
Due to failing standards of education in government schools, which are strapped for funds and human resources, many parents are compelled to send their children to private schools. The latter, in turn, are forced to charge high fees in order to secure land in prime locations and maintain certain levels of teaching and pastoral care.
Responding to proposals that if the state allot land in prime localities, good managements and groups of professionals may come forward to set up good schools, Justice Bhosale said, “We would welcome such efforts. We will ask the government to support such efforts. Let good teachers come forward.”
HPS counsel L Ravichander opposed the idea of forming a government committee to oversee fee structures saying that it was under the aegis of such panels that as many as 4,000 government schools we closed. The bench invited suggestions to improve things drastically and posted the case to next Monday.
The HSPA and JAC-SFR (Joint Action Committee for School Fee Regulation) plan to meet all the top government leaders and authorities concerning the issue.
One of the parents Sachin, had remarked, “Exponential hike in fee of private schools in Hyderabad has become unbearable. High admission fee, in cash without receipt, is justified by schools to take care of unaccounted expenses (bribes), which is unacceptable to parents. The government is not auditing the schools and is giving a free hand to this practice.”