The Supreme Court in a breakthrough Judgement has directed the Maharashtra Fee Regulating Authority to hear all the concerned parties before allowing raise in the fees of a private Educational Institution.
The Supreme Court was considering:
Whether there should be a mechanism for hearing the affected students by the Fee Regulating Authority constituted under Section 11 of the Maharashtra Unaided Private Professional Educational Institutions(Regulation of Admissions and Fees) Act, 2015.
The Fee Regulating Authority has been established under the provisions of the Maharashtra Unaided Private Professional Educational Institutions (Regulation of Admission and Fees) Act, 2015). The purpose of establishing the said Committee is to ensure that the private Management does not resort to charging exorbitant fees from the students and indulging into undue profitary. The Fees Regulating Authority is constituted under Sub-Section 3 of Section 11 of the said Act.
The Petitioner, before the Supreme Court were also the unsuccessful Petitioners before the Bombay High Court. They had challenged, the order of the Regulating Authority vide which the fees payable by the petitioner were accepted for the academic year 2016-17 for M.B.B.S. Course at Rs.5,00,000/- p.a. and by subsequent order dated 4th May, 2017 fixed the fees at the rate of Rs.7,25,000/- per year.
The petitioners were admitted in the second batch of the concerned Medical College i.e. for Academic Year 2016-17. It appears that, at the time of admission, the fees payable by the students was yet to be determined and as such, the College initially asked the students to deposit an amount of Rs.4,09,000/-. However, all the students were put on notice that, the said fees was not final and the fees, as determined by the College would have to be paid by the students. Accordingly, an Undertaking of the students, as well as, their parents on an Affidavit before the Executive Magistrate was also taken on record
Subsequently the Fee Regulating Authority determined the fees payable at the rate of Rs.5,00,000/- per student. However, the College, finding that the determination of fees was not taking into consideration various factors, filed an application for review, which was allowed and the fees payable was determined at the rate of Rs.7,25,000/-.
The Committee comprises of a retired Judge, an eminent educationist, a Chartered Accountant, a Cost Accountant, an expert in the field of professional education, Registrar of the University, Director(Technical Education), Director(Higher Education), Member Secretary of Maharashtra Council of Agricultural Education and Research and an Officer of the State Government not below the rank of the Joint Secretary.
Being aggrieved, the students complained before the Authority that the number of faculties as shown were not available, expenditure as shown by respondent no.3 was not the actual expenditure.
Accordingly a fact finding Committee came to be appointed which inspected the College, its record and came to the conclusion that, there was no substance in the allegations of the petitioners.
Being aggrieved by the fixation of fees at the rate of Rs.5,00,000/- initially and thereafter Rs.7,25,000/-, the petitioners approached Bombay High Court.
The Bombay High Court taking cognizance of the provisions of the Act and Affidavit filed by the Fee Regulating Authority, came to the conclusion that procedure followed by the Authority cannot be faulted with. The Court also noted that students well aware that, the final fees would be determined later by the College and they would be required to pay the fees as determined then and they had given an Undertaking on an Affidavit to that effect. Resultantly, the Petition was dismissed.
During the course of arguments, the Supreme Court was shown the Minutes of the Committee wherein it has observed that the members of the Committee interacted with the faculty and the students, apart from examining the books of account and the physical infrastructure of the Colleges, before approving the fee structure.
However, the Supreme Court took a view that the Committee ought to evolve a mechanism by which,
1] All the affected students are put to notice through the notice board of the concerned institutions; and
2] Fix a particular date on which any aggrieved person can be heard by the Committee and/or present his or her view point by way of a representation.
This may be done forthwith prospectively. The Committee would be free to consider whatever issues are raised, and in particular, whether change of denominator every year should have bearing on the fee structure to be devised.
The Supreme Court however, refused to interfere with the order of the Bombay High Court and disposed the Petition.
The Supreme Court no doubt has meaningfully compounded the object of the Act by allowing participation of the students and all the aggrieved persons, which would obviously include parents in the fee fixation process, which is a great step. In any case it is a fundamental right that an affected person has to be heard, which is guaranteed by Article 21 of Constitution of India and known “right to natural justice”.
However, such empowerment has to be exercised in a fruitful and meaningful matter and should not become cause of confrontation between the College and parents. “Reasonable surplus” has been an accepted theory by Supreme Court as well. However, the issue arises when different definition and denomination are being attached to the expression “reasonable”, which obviously is relative, and different for a parent and a Institution.
One of the reformative step, which Government should take to make this Act more effective is liberate the education sector from GST, in terms of services, which are availed for providing services to the students, this will obviously bring down the cost.
Argument Continues !
Read the Judgement of Supreme Court:41475_2017_Order_22-Dec-2017