Private Schools Association of Jammu and Kashmir (PSAJK) stirred a hornet’s nest last week by issuing a rate card for buses and vans. Despite clear orders from the concerned authorities, PSAJK not only fixed rates but also stated that it would charge 50 percent fare for vacations as well.
“So it was decided to fix the rates for school buses and put the anxiety of both parents and school administration to rest. The rates for 0-5 km distance has been fixed at ₹ 1950 per month and 5-10 km at ₹2450 per month and every additional km should pay an additional ₹45 per km. All schools have been directed to charge only 50 % during off periods extending to one month or more. Furthermore, there will be only 50% transportation fee during the non-operational period/winter vacations,” the statement said.
Following court orders, the Committee for Fixation and Regulation of Fee of Private Schools (FFRC) is already in place and PSAJK has clearly disregarded the same. In case the schools want to hike fees, the administrations of private educational institutes have to go through proper channels. A school or an association cannot issue rate cards on its own. On the other hand, van operators too hike monthly fee substantially without getting the required permissions.
In both cases, the officials of the education department have maintained an eerie silence. One of the parents’ associations even alleged they were receiving complaints from parents that officials in the education department were turning a deaf ear to their complaints. This is not the first time that officials maintained silence. The concerned authorities in Jammu and Kashmir like the School Education Department made no serious efforts to regulate the fee during the Covid lockdown when online classes were taking place.
While the FFRC passed orders on non-collection of transport fee, the Education Department later remained silent after a tweet from then Principal Secretary School Education Asgar Samoon that the government ‘may direct private schools to reduce tuition fees of students by 30 percent. “In view of the recent judgments of High Courts of Madras and Rajasthan, the government may direct private schools to reduce the tuition fees of students by 30% in view of the closure of schools due to the lockdown from March to September 2020; views of parents & management solicited,” Samoon had tweeted in September 2020.
There was no word from the government later on reduction of the monthly fee during the lockdown period. The parents later accused the government of giving in to the ‘lobbyism’ by the schools’ associations. Now, after the issuance of a rate card by the PSAJK and an increase in fares by van drivers, there has been no reaction to date from the authorities.
The only relief that the parents got was an order from the Court of Additional Special Mobile Magistrate (Traffic) Srinagar. The order from the Court of Additional Special Mobile Magistrate (Traffic) Srinagar presided by Hakeem Shabir Malik directed President, Srinagar Van Drivers Association, Sheikh Bagh Near Biscoe School Srinagar not to increase the transportation charges of the school students till further orders except in due course of law in an Application moved by Advocate Yawar Khan Yousufzai seeking passing of appropriate orders against the undue Fare Charges of School Students.
“So far as the plea of modification of vans in contravention to the provisions of Motor Vehicles Act is concerned, Senior Superintendent of Police Traffic Srinagar is Directed to examine all the vans of Srinagar Van Drivers Association and submit compliance report before the court with the photographic evidence within a period of two days,” the order had added.
Though the order was for a particular case, there are several other orders of similar nature that prevented schools or others from arbitrary hikes. From reducing the monthly fee in a couple of private schools to orders banning admission fees, the FFRC had earlier also restrained school authorities from hiking the monthly fee arbitrarily. Besides directing schools not to charge any transport fee during the lockdown period, it had ordered a 50 percent reduction in the monthly fee of two top private Valley-based schools. Now, the FFRC and the education department should take serious note of the rate card issued by the PSAJK so that such arbitrary notices are not issued in the future.
At the same time, the concerns of the schools and transporters too should not be ignored as successive lockdowns in the past have financially impacted all sections of society.
“Earlier schools used to merge the academic and transportation fee accounts together, to provide transport services to students at a reasonable rate. But now the situation has entirely changed. First, the School Fee Committee recommends keeping transportation and academic fee accounts as separate ones, so one cannot subsidize transportation on the back of academic fee. Secondly, during the last three years, most school bus fleets and even that of private transporters has almost gone defunct. Due to almost zero income, the fitness certificates, road taxes, EMI’s, and other expenses are pending thus creating a huge liability. In the current situation when everyone is facing a financial crunch the working of transportation at previous rates is impossible. The price of diesel and petrol has increased by a big margin during the last three years adding to the woes,” PSAJK said.
The problems are genuine and have to be addressed. However, it does not mean that the school administrations can hike fees on their own.