ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday expressed dismay over the way upscale private schools had converted education into a business, but sought replies from two private schools about the implementation of its Dec 13 order of slashing school fees by 20 per cent.

A three-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Justice Gulzar Ahmed, had taken up a contempt of court case initiated against two schools — Headstart School System and Ecole des Lumieres School of Light — for allegedly circulating highly derogatory letters addressed to parents and guardians.

In a written order, the Supreme Court had ordered the issuance of notices to the owners/directors/chief executives of these schools to appear before the court to explain why proceedings for contempt may not be initiated against them and why they may not be punished in accordance with the law.

The court also took exception to a comment in which the verdict on school fees was described as draconian while Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan regretted that the letters written to parents were contemptuous.

“Why not we issue directives to the government to take over private schools,” Justice Ahmed observed, adding that these institutions had turned education into a money-making venture.

Justice Ahmed also recalled how some private schools had written letters to the chief justice in which they used contemptuous language.

“They do not have any iota of shame in their eyes,” Justice Ahmed said. “They have poisoned lives by entering students’ homes.”

Questions are put to parents even about their private lives, Justice Gulzar Ahmed regretted. “For instance, where do you go for excursion or recreation, how much do you earn, at what time do you go to bed, when do you rise.”

The court, however, asked advocate Syed Hamid Ali Shah, who is representing the Headstart School, to furnish a written explanation over the use of contemptuous language.

When the counsel sought pardon, assuring that such incident would not be repeated and that they had followed the court’s directives by reducing fees, Justice Ahmed observed that the court would consider whether to pardon the schools or not only after they submitted their apologies.

School defends itself

The director of Headstart School System said the allegation that the institution had made derogatory remarks against the apex court was the result of “misreading, misunderstanding and miscommunication” of the substance of the letter.

The reply by Nazneez Murtaza stated that the law secretary had not informed the Supreme Court properly and misrepresented the word “wildebeest” used in the letter written by the school as “wild beast”.

Explaining further, the reply stated that “wildebeest” was an antelope and belongs to the same cloven hoofed and two-horned family as cattle, goats, sheep and was native to Africa.

The words “wild beast” are always used to defame an individual and not against any organisation. It was wrongly conveyed to the court, perhaps unwittingly, that the word was used in a derogatory manner against the court.

Therefore, the insinuation that an attempt was made to undermine the integrity of the apex court was misplaced, the school observed.

The contents of the letter, by any stretch of imagination, were not intended to question the court’s authority, the reply stated. This does not fall within the ambit and scope of contempt of court as envisaged under Section 3 of the Contempt of the Court Act 2012, it added.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2019