There are around ten lakh students enrolled in five thousand and two hundred (5,200) privately run educational institutions in Jammu and Kashmir. Though these schools are registered with Jammu and Kashmir Board of School Education (BOSE) or Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), the management, and rules and regulations by and large in these schools are set by internal school administrations or the owners. The very little or no say from government in the functioning of these schools may also be one of the reasons that the students from these schools perform well than their counterparts in government-run schools in Board exams. It’s also no secret that government run schools have failed to attract parents to enroll their children despite having sufficient funds and qualified staff at their disposal. In some way or the other, the less government interference may be the cause of private schools performing better academically and otherwise, but there is also a darker reality associated with it.
There have been widespread allegations of private schools charging exorbitant fees from students and in most of the cases the allegations have been found to be true. The privately-run schools besides charging the tuition fee from the students have been rather extorting money from parents under one pretext or the other. The issue also got highlighted after Sept 2014 floods hit the valley when schools continued to charge students their tuition fees and bus and fuel charges for the time period schools remained shut. At that point JK High Court had to pass directions to restrict school managements from demanding fees which was not due to them.
The government complicity in the matter could be gauged from the fact that courts more often than not had to intervene to protect the interests of the students and parents.
Supreme Court of India in May 2016 while deciding a similar case regarding higher education ordered that ‘no capitation fee should be charged by the education institutions and these should run on no-profit-no-loss basis’.
In 2013, Jammu and Kashmir constituted School Fee Fixation Committee (SFFC) to regulate the fee structure of private schools in the State. In 2015, government appointed Justice (Retd) Hakim Imtiyaz Hussain as SFFC’s chairman. After assuming the charge Justice Hussian had said: “It is well settled now, as has been laid down by the Supreme Court of India… that commercialization and exploitation is not permissible in the Education Sector,”
“Education is treated as a noble occupation on no profit-no-loss basis. Thus, those who establish and are managing the educational institutions are not expected to indulge in undue profiteering or commercialize this noble activity,” Justice (Retd) Hakim Imtiyaz Hussain had said.
What has been going on in the state (J&K) is contrary to the aims and objective for which the Fee Fixation Committee came into existence. High Court on August 24 had to direct government to either reconstitute or extend the term of old School Fee Fixation Committee after its chairman had completed his two-year term in July this year. The Court ordered ‘government may frame a policy of increasing the fee by a certain percentage amount across the board on an annual basis as per the criteria like inflation’. High Court division bench headed by Chief Justice Badar Durrez Ahmed said that ‘in case any school requires enhancement more than the prescribed rate, then on a case to case basis, the Committee would consider the cases individually’.
But despite constituting the fee fixation committees and the HC orders, the private schools have continued with fleecing the public by charging fees under various heads and increasing the tuition fee by whatever percentage they wish. On Sept 12, government extended the term of School Fee Fixation Committee by a year. The committee now will have to show the results on ground to prove it’s just not another ineffectual government body but can actually implement the court orders and government directions on ground.
Most of the people in State already doubt the effectiveness of government or its committees to regulate the fee structure of private school in the State. There are already reports in media that after ‘intense lobbying, the private schools conglomerate has now got their way to the government to accede to annual fee hike demand of private schools and keep the SFFC disempowered’. Private schools have not only stopped charging tuition and bus fare during the winter months but have also been arbitrarily increasing the tuition fee after almost every year. And the educational department instead of taking the corrective measures have been turning blind eye to the issue. There has been no end to capitation fee at the time of the admission in private schools.
On Sept 08, this month, the Minister for Education Syed Altaf Bukhari chaired a meeting to discuss enactment of an Act for fixation of fee structure in State’s private schools. Media quoted Bukhari as having told the high ranking state officials: “Through this Act we can fix the fee structure of private schools for the larger welfare of student community and the education system.” Education Minister as per the reports has directed the department of School Education to give inputs for the proposed Act. Will such an Act see the light of the day in view of powerful school lobby only time will tell, but the step indicates the concerned ministry is aware of the irregularities happening in private education sector. And its success will only be gauged by the results felt on the ground and not by formulations of committees and proposals for enactment of Acts in legislature.
People also expect Education Minister is aware of the ground realities that despite High Court orders and government directions, many schools collect huge sums in cash at the time of admission and increase the tuition and other fees as well as the bus fare as per their will. People are also within their right to ask how have some schools in the valley managed to double their tuition fee in five years.