The Madras High Court on Thursday set aside the fees fixed by the School Fee Determination Committee, headed by Justice K.Raviraja Pandian, relating to nearly 300 writ petitions, and remitted the matter back to the panel for fresh consideration.

As the academic year 2012-13 had already started, many schools were said to be facing financial difficulties in view of the fee structure already fixed. As an interim arrangement, pending final orders of the panel, the writ petitioner schools, both minority and non-minority schools, would be entitled to collect 15 per cent over and above the fee fixed earlier by the committee. The court made it clear that the interim arrangement would be applicable only to schools which had filed writ petitions and not to other schools.

The petitioners were self-financing schools. Some of them were recognised under the Tamil Nadu Private Schools Regulation Act; a few others were recognised under the Code of Regulations for Matriculation Schools or Code of Regulations for Anglo-Indian schools.

By the impugned order, the panel determined the fee to be collected for three academic years from 2010-11 to 2012-13.

It was challenged on the ground of arbitrariness and that it was not in conformity with the Tamil Nadu Schools (Regulation of Collection of Fee) Act. The petitioners' grievance was that no sufficient opportunity was given to them at the time of personal hearing.

The court said the fee structure approval form should be given to writ petitioner schools calling upon them to produce the details and documents. All these schools should propose the fee structure afresh with fresh or additional material/audit statements. The committee should give personal hearing to each of the petitioner schools and afford reasonable opportunity to them and pass final orders as expeditiously as possible, preferably by this year December-end.

The court said that in respect of unaided non-minority educational institutions, the School Fee Determination committee should keep in view the guidelines in the present order relating to pay and allowances of teaching and non-teaching staff and employees' welfare schemes.

All unaided non-minority educational institutions should be entitled to surplus for the school's development: for schools located in village and town panchayats, it will be 10 per cent; those in municipalities and district headquarters, 12.5 per cent and those falling under corporations 15 per cent. For infrastructure grading, there should be an increase in fee -– 7.5 to 10 per cent -- depending on the availability of infrastructure in schools.

Most of the petitioners were running minority institutions. The court said the right to administer conferred upon the minority institutions the right to manage the institutions. Minority institutions could not resist the regulations, which were conducive to maintaining standards. However, no regulation would be valid if it had the effect of displacing the minority administration or restricting the right of the minorities to administer the educational institutions.

The court said the directions (except the observations regarding the RTE Act) in respect of unaided non-minority institutions should also hold good for unaided minority institutions. That apart, in respect of unaided minority institutions, the committee should keep in view the guidelines in the court order and also others which included that audited statement submitted by the minority institutions may be accepted by the committee; in case the panel did not approve the auditors' statement, it should record the reasons. The committee should afford reasonable opportunity to minority institutions and thereafter pass the final order. There should not be restriction regarding the salary payable to teaching and non-teaching staff, which, of course, was subject to government scale of pay and orders. The committee should not interfere with the expenditure of minority institutions on their cultural and religious activities to retain their character.

Regarding minority institutions run by Catholic dioceses and their various congregations, the court said all such institutions would be entitled to 25 per cent surplus, irrespective of their location. Other minority institutions would be entitled to surplus for development depending on their location: village and town panchayats at 10 per cent; municipality and district headquarters at 12.5 per cent and corporations at 15 per cent.

The minority educational institutions (including the institutions run by Catholic Dioceses and their various congregations) should also be entitled to 7.5 to 10 per cent increase in free structure on infrastructure grading.