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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court reiterated on Thursday that its previous order of reduction in school fees by 20 per cent applied to all private schools charging fees in excess of Rs5,000 per month.

A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, had taken up a case relating to exorbitant fees being charged by private schools.

In its Dec 13 order, the court had ordered a 20 per cent decrease in fees charged by private schools and ordered them to return half the fees they had charged for summer vacations.

Dr Muhammad Raheem Awan, the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan’s secre­tary, informed the court about the reaction to the order, stating that some schools had refused to comply with the directive.

Some of the institutions had told parents that in case of reduction in the fees, they would scale down extra-curricular activities and other facilities, the secretary said.

One school in Lahore even had the audacity to carry out a 20 per cent hike in its fees.

Moreover, schools have refused to refund the fees charged for summer vacations.

According to Dr Awan, one school had reduced its fees by Rs1,000, but discontinued Quranic classes. Another has asked parents to get their children enrolled in a co-education school.

The secretary cited the example of a school in Islamabad which had told parents that after the Supreme Court’s decision, it had no option but to lower its standard of education.

“We are clarifying our orders that the Dec 13 order will apply to all private schools and whosoever will not comply with the orders, will be considered in disregard of the court order,” observed the chief justice.

The court asked the LJCP to furnish a report regarding paring down of school facilities as well as about retrenchment of staff, including teachers.

Amanullah Kanrani, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, lamented that a prominent school chain had started treating its students like stepchildren, adding his own children were complaining of mistreatment.

Private Schools Association President Zafran Elahi told the court that if schools were to return one month’s fees, they would be forced to shut down operations.

“Then shut down,” the chief justice said. “The court will show how to shut them down. If you wish to close your schools, close them.”

Some chains were earning billions of rupees , the chief justice regretted, adding the government had failed to make up for the shortage of schools.

Chief Justice Saqib Nisar said proliferation of private schools had led to a decline in quality of teaching at public sector institutions.

Senior counsel Faisal Siddiqui, who was appointed amicus curiae, said funds meant for the public sector schools were going to the private sector. Dr Awan, the Law Commission’s secretary, said public sector schools were being damaged intentionally.

A representative of the Federal Board of Revenue’s (FBR) audit team told the court that private schools had paid a total of Rs1.2bn in taxes and action against seven institutions was being taken, but some schools had been able to get stay orders against the proceedings.

The court asked a member of the audit team to produce a document to prove that a school chain was paying its director Rs8.5 million per month.

One school director was getting an annual salary of Rs120m, the court was told.

Faisal Siddiqui said private schools did not want to have themselves regulated and believe the court was exceeding its authority. However, he added, the court’s interim order was suitable.

The court emphasised the need for a strong regulator for private schools, but observed that the issue was that the regulator was also involved.

Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2019