Private schools

The fee scam

Print edition : July 08, 2016

Parents protest against the fee hike by Delhi Public School in New Delhi on May 5. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

Unaided private schools in Delhi charge excess fees under various heads despite having sufficient funds to meet their expenses, including teachers’ salaries in accordance with the Pay Commission recommendation.

Angry parents protested in front of the prestigious Pathways International School on Noida-Greater Noida Expressway in the National Capital Region in the sweltering May heat demanding rollback of the recent hike in the quarterly fee from Rs.90,000 to Rs.99,000. The school management did not relent. In fact, it levied an additional Rs.20,000 as information technology fee. The parents said the school had been increasing the fees almost every year and also levying other charges from time to time.

Thousands of parents from 18 States gathered in New Delhi in March under the aegis of the All India Parents Association to demand a Central legislation regulating the fee structure of private schools. They also demanded that education be made compulsory under the Right to Education (RTE) Act up to Class XII as against Class VIII, extension of the benefit of reservation to students belonging to the economically weaker sections (EWS), and free school education.

In Hyderabad and Bengaluru, parents approached the High Courts in their respective States to demand regulation of private school fee structure.

PRIVATE unaided schools, which have emerged as an alternative to government-funded schools, flout rules with impunity. Their managements fleece parents, who are eager to give their wards good English medium education, by arbitrarily hiking the fees every year and charging for non-existent facilities. They do not pay the teachers their full salaries and increase their workload with non-teaching work even during vacations. The school managements get away with all this because the laws are not adequate to restrain them.

If the contents of the 10 interim reports submitted by the committee headed by Justice Anil Dev Singh, which was constituted by the Delhi High Court in 2011 to review private school fee structure, are any indication, the state of education in private schools in Delhi is indeed grim. The committee scrutinised the accounts of 1,092 schools and submitted its findings and recommendations since 2012. It has identified 535 unaided schools overcharging parents to meet the expenses of incremental salaries to teachers recommended by the Sixth Pay Commission. It recommended refund of excess fee taken under various heads with interest at the rate of 9 per cent per annum, besides the excess fee taken from parents every year, amounting to Rs.300 crore.

In its ninth interim report submitted on December 30, 2015, the committee ordered 53 private schools in Delhi to refund the excess fees they had collected since 2011 despite having sufficient funds to meet expenses. The report said the additional revenue generated on account of fee hike was in excess of their requirement and that the development fee charged by them was not in accordance with the criteria laid down earlier.

In its 10th interim report submitted on April 25, the committee dealt with 26 Delhi schools, 18 of them run by the DAV College Managing Committee (DAVCMC) and recommended special inspection of their accounts to ascertain their true financial status. The committee pointed out that among the accounts scrutinised were those of 18 schools run by the DAVCMC in Delhi which it said were found to be unjustifiably recovering development fees and building funds, and transferring the funds to DAVCMC. The report said: “A peculiar practice being followed by the schools run by this body is that the fees received from the students are transferred to DAVCMC in the first instance. The amounts required by the schools to meet their expenses are then transferred back to the school. The surplus, if any, is thus retained by the DAVCMC. The schools themselves are holding bare minimum funds.”

In some renowned schools in Delhi, teachers are forced to sign papers showing salary amounts higher than what they are actually paid. Some of the managements do pay them what is shown on paper but ask the teachers to pay back the “excess” amount either in cash or by “self” cheque. In fact, the managements do not pay heed to even court orders. The Delhi High Court in November 2015 ordered the prestigious Guru Harkishan Public School Society, which runs 12 schools, to pay all its teachers salaries on the pay scales recommended by the Sixth Pay Commission, but the management chose to look the other way. This despite the fact that the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC), which runs the society, had committed itself in an affidavit to the court in May 2015 to paying the salaries with arrears. The teachers have been running from pillar to post to get their dues and even approached the Delhi government to intervene in the matter.

The principal of a prominent private school in west Delhi said: “This is a vicious cycle. There are not enough good government schools so parents are forced to go to private schools, which in turn have their own arbitrary rules, regulations and fee structure. They promise the moon by way of facilities, but provide nothing. Pay a pittance to teachers, so they do not get qualified teachers. The schools have become money-minting shops with scant regard for quality education or the future of children.” What was even worse, she said, was that neither the Delhi government nor the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) nor the Indian Council of Secondary Education (ICSE) had taken note of the situation.

A senior teacher at Vasant Valley School in Delhi rues the fact that instead of improving the system the government is adding to the trouble. “Take the example of the previous government’s decision to introduce a no-detention policy until Class IX and the Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation [CCE] system. The no-detention policy has meant that children and parents do not pay attention to studies resulting in a weak foundational education.” The CCE, she said, was an eyewash because the schools would inflate the cumulative grade point average (CGPA) to paint a good picture of the educational standards of their schools. “A CGPA of 9.6 and above is the norm, rather than an exception,” she said.

Such cosmetic surgery of the education system, teachers said, had done more harm than good for the students because they were growing up as confused and as non-competitive individuals. “We approached the Delhi government and the CBSE, with proof, but nothing happened,” a teacher working in a prominent private school in Dwarka area of Delhi said. “Taking money from students to give them good grades, charging them for non-existent facilities like computer education or swimming pool when the computer lab remains locked most of the time and the swimming pool is functional only occasionally, are common practices,” she said. Parents were helpless because they feared that complaining to the authorities would put their child’s future in jeopardy.

The EWS scam

Yet another malpractice in private schools, which has come to light, is with regard to the adherence to the 25 per cent reservation for students in the EWS category. “This is a huge scam. On paper, children of guards, gardeners, and maids are given admission but they are paid money to leave the school after sometime. Even genuine EWS students are forced to leave before Class VIII on some pretext or the other. Besides, non-EWS students are given admission for huge sums of money,” a teacher in a high-profile school said. “The education system has become a huge show without any substance. You show air-conditioned campuses, A/C buses, swimming pools, a couple of good English-speaking teachers and students to parents and they are satisfied. They don't mind shelling out money, without realising that they are being taken for a ride,” said a teacher with 30 years of experience in reputed schools in Delhi.

According to a teacher with 17 years’ experience in the Delhi Public School, the level of corruption in private schools is mind-boggling. “Everything is on paper, nothing on the ground. It is all a big tamasha. Education is only rote learning, smart classes are only in concept. Teachers are treated like slaves, made to do non-teaching work even during vacations and not compensated adequately. We met the Delhi Education Minister Manish Sisodia in the hope that he will correct the system since the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government claimed to be different. But nothing happened.”

Payment of arrears

The exploitation of teachers got highlighted at a recent press conference in Delhi by teachers of the 12 Guru Harkishan Public Schools. The teachers of these schools, who have not been paid the salaries recommended by the Pay Commission and the arrears, filed a writ petition in the High Court. The court delivered a favourable judgement in March 2013, yet the schools did not pay the teachers their dues. The teachers filed contempt cases against the schools, which forced the DSGMC to submit an affidavit, tendering an unconditional apology for the delay and committing to pay the dues in five instalments beginning July 2015. However, it defaulted on the payment.

The teachers alleged that they were not intimated about the statement of computation of arrears due to them. “We did get some paltry sums as dues in September and November last year, but nothing came after that,” they said.

Rajni Naik, one of the petitioners in the case, said it was ironic that they were fighting for the salaries recommended by the Sixth Pay Commission while others elsewhere were waiting for the Seventh Pay Commission salaries. “If this is the state of affairs in prestigious schools, one can imagine the situation facing the teaching staff in lesser known schools,” she said.

Three Bills

The Delhi government is not moved by the plight of teachers or students. According to Ashok Agrawal, Supreme Court lawyer and activist, who is also the president of All India Parents Association, the government has in fact passed Bills which are likely to have a long-term impact on the education system in Delhi. The Bills seek to do away with the no-detention policy, abolish the right of teachers in private schools to be paid on a par with those in government schools, and give the government the right to verify fees (the government merely checks whether the hiked fee is used for the stated purpose). “Fee verification means private schools will be free to loot. Besides, there is a proposal to take away the teachers’ right to equal pay, which will make them bonded labourers in the long run,” Agrawal said. The three Bills are pending with the Central government.

Agrawal, who has left the AAP after involving himself with it at the time of its inception, said he requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take five steps to put the education system on the right track: extend reservation for the EWS up to Class XII, bring minority institutions under the ambit of the RTE, make it mandatory for public servants to send their children to government schools, enact a Central legislation for fee regulation, and make it mandatory for private schools to pay their teachers salary on a par with government schools. Obviously, Agrawal has not received a reply.

“It is surprising that the Delhi government and the Centre are silent on a matter that concerns the future of India,” Agrawal said. He rues the fact that despite the High Court-mandated committee ordering 535 schools in Delhi to refund Rs.300 crore to parents, the Delhi government had taken no initiative to ensure the implementation of the order.

“I have been fighting this battle since 1997 and will continue to do so,” he said. Agrawal played a major role in the drafting of the RTE Bill, besides ensuring reservation in schools for children of the economically weaker sections.

He said following the pressure created by their campaign in 2009, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India conducted an audit of the top 25 private schools in Delhi and exposed their looting. The report criticised the schools for manipulating the accounts to earn money. The CAG said 25 elite private schools had passed on the burden of implementing the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission to parents, without drawing on the cash reserves they had.

The Anil Dev Singh committee also held similar views on the question of whether schools needed to raise the fees to meet their additional liabilities.

“The building fee charged by the schools at the time of admission is clearly prohibited by law as it amounts to charging a capitation fee. The same charged by the schools ought to be refunded along with interest at 9 per cent per annum from the date of collection to the date of refund,” it said.

Similarly, the committee took exception to charging development fees. “The statute governing private unaided schools in Delhi did not provide for charging any development fee by the unaided recognised private schools in Delhi,” it said. Citing the pre-conditions laid down by the Supreme Court, the committee said that development fee could be charged only if it was utilised for meeting capital expenditure for purchase, upgradation and replacement of furniture, fixtures and equipment and if the school maintained a specified amount of money earmarked for development fund and the overall cap of the charge of development fee was 15 per cent of the tuition fee.

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