ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) gave its verdict in the long-awaited fee hike case on Wednesday, and set aside the government notification that restrained private school owners from increasing school fees.

An IHC single bench set aside the Sept 23, 2015 notification issued by the Private Educational Institutions Regulatory Authority (Peira), which had restrained private school owners from increasing school fees.

The verdict read: “There can be no arbitrary fixation of the fee by the authorities or even enhancement of the same rather it has to be done after taking into consideration the expenses/costs of the petitioners and naturally the profit on the same.”

Verdict states there cannot be arbitrary fixation of fees by authorities

The order said that the authority needs to frame regulations keeping in view the judgment’s observations. It said that while making or framing these rules and regulations, the authority could invite suggestions from private educational institutions to make them comprehensive and in line with the provisions of law.

Peira issued the notification after parents and civil society members held a series of protests and criticised the government for its lack of action against the ‘unregulated’ increase in fees. Private schools such as Beaconhouse, City School, Froebel’s, Roots and Headstart – as well as others – then challenged the notification before the IHC.

The schools asked the court to not only set aside the notification but also the entire Peira act. While the bench accepted their first contention, it declined the request to annul the Peira act.

The bench set aside the notification, citing that it could not have been issued by an acting chairman instead of a regular chairman. The Ministry of Capital Administration and Development Division (CADD) secretary had been appointed Peira acting chairman at the time the notification was issued.

It was in September last year, following widespread protests by parents, that the prime minister took notice of the increase in private school fees. Peira had then circulated a notification which stated: “The private education institutions enhanced the fee without the permission of the authority, which is not permissible under the law. All the private educational institutions are directed not to increase any fee/charges/funds in 2015. Any increase in fee/fund/charges, already charged by the institutions shall be refunded/adjusted in the subsequent challans/bills.”

The notification also said that in case of default “the authority would be constrained to act in pursuance of section 16 of Peira Act 2013, against the non-observing institutions”.

The private schools’ counsel, Asma Jehangir and Shahid Hamid, had adopted that private schools did not need permission from the federal government to increase school fees.

On Oct 12, 2015, an IHC bench had conditionally allowed the Beaconhouse and City schools to receive the increased fees for the month of September-October after the schools said the increased amount would be refunded in the following months.

Various other private schools then came together over the matter and also filed petitions. Through their counsel, the schools had adopted that the notification was issued without meaningful consultations with stakeholders, the owners and managements of private schools, while publicised meetings were held with a handful of agitating parents.

Their counsel also argued that the petitioners provided state of the art educational facilities, back up power supply, air-conditioned rooms, fine furniture and well-educated members of staff. They said the petitioners could not be compared with government-run schools, where students are seated on carpets. They also asked that the schools be allowed to receive fees on the increased rate for the 2016 academic year.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2016