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KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Monday directed private schools to refund or adjust the fees they had charged from students beyond five per cent in violation of its restraining order passed in September last year.

The three-member bench of the SHC, headed by Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi, was hearing contempt of court applications over non-implementation of its order regarding enhancement in annual tuition fees. It also restrained the management of private schools from collecting three months’ fee in advance.

The bench also ordered the private schools to submit details of the disputed amount (excess fee) being deposited in the Supreme Court, where an appeal of private schools is being heard against the SHC judgement.

At the outset of the hearing, the director general of the directorate of inspection of private schools, Mansoob Siddiqui, placed the record about fee structure of private schools, approved by the provincial authorities, before the bench.

Schools also restrained from charging three months’ fees in advance

The record showed that the fee structure of the City School had not been approved since 2005 owing to litigation, and the fee structure of the Head Start School System was approved in 2016.

The bench said that they were influential people and apparently nobody had asked them to approve the fee structure. It warned the counsel for private schools that stern action would be initiated against the schools for not implementing its orders.

The bench said that it would implement the initial restraining order of the SHC, dated Sept 20, 2017, on a petition of parents of students, in which it had barred the private schools from raising their fees by more than five per cent. The final judgement of this bench, handed down around three months ago, has endorsed the interim restraining order.

The bench observed that the private schools had to adjust or refund the fee they had charged more than five per cent after Sept 20 last year. It also told the managements of private schools to come up with implementation reports at the next hearing or face consequences for defying its order.

Appeal in SC

The counsel for private schools said that an appeal had been filed before the Supreme Court against the SHC’s judgement and they had also been depositing the disputed amount in the SC, adding that the appeal was fixed for Dec 10.

However, the bench asked the lawyers that it could only stop the proceedings if they produced a restraining order of the SC.

The counsel for two private schools contended that they had more than 55,000 students and around 150 branches across the province and needed time to file a detailed reply.

While adjourning the matter till Dec 17, the bench also directed Mr Siddiqui to inform it at the next hearing about the efforts he had made to implement its judgement.

The parents of a large number of students enrolled in various private schools across Karachi filed applications seeking contempt of court proceedings against the managements of four schools — Beaconhouse School System, Foundation Public School, Head Start School System and the City School — for allegedly defying the Sept 3 judgement of the bench which ruled that the private schools could not enhance the annual tuition fees by more than five per cent.

They also impleaded the education department and directorate of inspection of private schools as respondents for their alleged failure to enforce the judgement.

The lawyers for the applicants contended that despite the SHC judgement, the schools had enhanced the tuition fees by more than five per cent.

On Sept 3, the same bench had declared the enhancement in annual tuition fees more than five per cent by the private schools and institutions as illegal and directed their managements to refund the excess amounts within three months.

The bench in its judgement had also directed the government to increase the education budget in the first plan and to formulate a uniform education policy for both public and private education sectors in such a manner that there should be no difference in the quality and standard of education provided by public and private schools.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2018