Above and beyond the limit: How Gujarat’s schools have devised ways to justify their fee structures

Many self-financed schools in Gujarat have found ways to get around the fee regulation Act, even as the state BJP government projected the newly enacted law as one of its major “pro-people” decisions.

As things fall in place with the academic session having started on June 5, the Gujarat government claimed to have issued notices to over 2,350 schools on June 14, covering all those which failed to comply with the Gujarat Self Financed Schools (Regulation of Fees) Act 2017 by submitting affidavits or proposals. The government, however, appeared to have completely “overlooked” a majority of self-financed schools still charging exorbitant fee from parents.

The biggest loophole in the Act appeared to be a clause that if schools “justify” their fee structure, they could be allowed to charge above the stipulated limit — Rs 15,000 (primary), 25,000 (secondary and higher secondary offering general stream) and Rs 27,000 (secondary and higher secondary offering science stream).

Some well-known private schools in Ahmedabad have devised ways to justify their fee structures way beyond the limit stipulated in the Act — the rules of which were notified on April 12 and April 25.

A popular school in Ahmedabad, it has been learnt, raised salaries of teachers by more than 100 per cent for this academic session. However, the hike was only on paper and the teachers continued on their old salaries. In another instance, a school running from a rented property showed a spike in rent from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 15 lakh in one year.

Gujarat Education Minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama told The Indian Express, “Drastic jump in expenses shown in records within a year will be certainly verified by the Fee Regulatory Committees (FRCs). Also, apart from verification of records, there will be a systematic inquiry into the complaints received against schools and no institute will be spared.”

In an unusual practice adopted by the schools already charging fee higher than the stipulated limit, they collected the entire annual school fee in the form of post-dated cheques. This was not practiced before this Act came into force.

While almost all schools have encashed the first quarter fee — much higher than the limit, several parents have even deposited the second installment. Many such schools have asked parents to deposit Rs 15,000 (the limit) by cheque and the the rest amount in cash to avoid detection.

Several parents said they have no hope in the state government’s assurances on reports that those schools charging either the annual or half-yearly fee instead of just the first quarter in violation of the Act would face suo motu action. “Who knows what will happen after the Assembly elections. Securing their sides, the schools have adopted this tactics. There is no rule of collecting post dated cheques. It is entirely illegal,” said Amit Panchal, who heads the parents’ association in Ahmedabad.

gujarat, fees regulation act, gujarat schools, gujarat government, BJPParents predominantly have not registered complaints in this regard as they fear that they would be identified and their children will be targeted by school authorities. “Recently, a similar thing happened to one of my relatives where the mother protested the high fee. The school openly challenged the parent to take action and threatened to throw her daughter out of the school. Now when the parent stepped back, the school started to harass her daughter in one way or the other. So, we do not want his to happen to our children,” a parent said, requesting anonymity.As per a complaint filed to the Education Minister on June 16 by a group of parents against Tripada International School in Ghatlodia, the school management was accused of creating ambiguity towards fee.

As per a complaint filed to the Education Minister on June 16 by a group of parents against Tripada International School in Ghatlodia, the school management was accused of creating ambiguity towards fee.

“We received a message on our phones from the school on June 9 to submit the fee before June 15, but not disclosing the amount to be deposited. When we reached the school and asked for the fee circular, we were denied the same. When we tried to pay quarterly fee of Rs 3,750 as per the Act, amounting to an annual total of Rs 15,000, it was not accepted by the school’s administration. This is clearly creating an environment of ambiguity where the school does not want to come on record on the high fee they are charging, but at the same time not accepting the fee stipulated under the Act,” the complaint stated. Archit Bhatt, a trustee of the school, on the other, hand blamed the parents “who want to settle their personal scores”.

Meanwhile, the FRCs have been requested to complete hearing and take a decision at the earliest on the fee structures of those schools which have filed applications for charging above the fee cap.

Parents in Ahmedabad under the banner of ‘Parents Ekta Manch (PEM)’ had also staged a day-long fast and dharna outside Gandhi Ashram last week against the “anomalies” the fee regulation Act. They demanded a review of this Act as well as raised the issue of non-implementation of the rules by self-financed schools which continue to charge higher fee than the limit.

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