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December 14, 2018

Schools charging over Rs5,000 per month fee: SC reduces 20pc fee of private schools

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December 14, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday ordered 20 percent decrease in the fee being charged by all the private schools all over the country and ordered them to return the 50 percent fee that was charged in the summer vacation. This order is applicable to all those private schools that were charging more than Rs5,000 a month fee.

The three-member SC bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Saqib Nisar and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Faisal Arab, while hearing a sou motu case pertaining to excessive fee charged by private schools, had ordered the institutions to submit their audit reports and formed a committee to find an amicable solution to the issue for excessive fee, which is a burden on parents.

Audit reports for Beaconhouse School System, The City School, Lahore Grammar School, Roots School System, Bayview Academy and 15 other schools, which were submitted before the court on Thursday, apprised the court that the directors and top officials of the schools had received Rs62 million in salaries in 2017. 

A total of Rs512 million till the next hearing audit report appeared to be incorrect as he opined that they should be caught and handed over to the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). He remarked that children were not getting any relief of even Rs2 while private school owners were minting money. He further regretted if children are unable to pay the fee, they cannot get admission to these schools. He further regretted that these school owners had opened their schools in rented bungalows and earned huge amounts from each and every room.

Counsel for the parents Faisal Siddique told the court that no school had its fee approved by any regulatory authority. Justice Ijazul Ahsan observed that the schools had provided incorrect figures in their audit reports. He noted that directors are receiving Rs8.3 million in salary.

The CJP remarked if they were devouring money, even then Rs8.3 million will never end. Beaconhouse school counsel Shahid Hamid argued that Beaconhouse had paid Rs764 million in taxes. He further said that Punjab had about 54,000 private schools.

Justice Ijazul Ahsan said that they might have paid a lot of taxes, but the students are not getting any benefit from them. He observed that students will be benefited only when the fees are lowered. The CJP remarked that if children education is being affected, the court will play the role of a parent.

The court also summoned FBR chairman and FIA director general to appear on the next date of hearing. The CJP directed that the FBR should check the tax record for the last seven years and directed the counsel for BSS to ensure that he would not let them close down their schools. He further directed that court will take action against anyone who tries to shut their school down.

Secretary law and justice told the court that certain schools had increased their fee by 63 percent in five years. Counsel for another school system Ayesha Hamid submitted that all were ready to reduce their fee by eight per cent, to which the CJP observed that the decrease was much too small. Justice Ijazul Ahsan noted if there is an eight percent increase in school fee annually, there would be a 32 percent increase in four years. He observed that private school systems think they are making up for the shortcomings of government schools but actually, they have established their monopoly. He further asked the counsels for respondents to consult their client if they are ready to decrease their fee by 20 percent.

The CJP further said that the court will decide in future how much they can increase the fee. He observed that five percent fee increase annually was appropriate. He added that a regulator could later see whether the fee increase needed to be set any higher.

The court subsequently ordered 20 percent reduction in the fee of all private schools, and directed them to return 50 percent fee they had charged for summer vacation. The court also directed the FIA to freeze the accounts of 21 school systems as the FBR would scrutinise their tax records. The case was adjourned until Dec 26.

Meanwhile, while hearing case of non-payment of salaries and dues to journalists and media workers, the Supreme Court on Thursday ordered journalists to submit names of consensus representatives who should lead the concerned case in the court till the next hearing.

A three-member bench led by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Mian Saqib Nisar and others comprising justice Faisal Arab and Justice Ijazul Hassan held the hearing of the case. Besides petitioners, representatives of the PFUJ were also present during the hearing.