CUTTACK: THE four-month-old legal battle over exemption of school fees for students of private schools in wake of Covid-19 pandemic took a decisive turn on Tuesday with the Orissa High Court turning to the State Government for mediation to resolve the dispute.
The dispute centers round the contentions of three PIL petitioners Mohamed Mustaq, Prahallad Rout and Odisha Abhibhabak Mahasangh (OAM) and two interveners Confederation of Odisha Public Schools (COPS) and Odisha Private Schools Teachers Association.
The division bench of Chief Justice Mohammad Rafiq and Justice KR Mohapatra directed the Secretary of School and Mass Education Department to conduct the mediation over the issue by Saturday and submit a report when the matter is taken up next week. The Court directed all the petitioners and interveners in the case to participate in the mediation.
Earlier in an interim order on May 26, the High Court had directed that no student of any private school which had adopted the online mode to impart teaching through e-classes should be deprived of the facility irrespective of whether the student has paid fees or not.
The petitions were filed in April seeking direction to the State Government to order the private public schools to waive off fees for March, April, May and June in view of the Covid restrictions and consequent financial situation.
In his petition, chairman of OAM Basudev Bhatta contended that COVID-19 pandemic is an extraordinary situation which demands extraordinary measures. He sought exemption of tuition fees and non enhancement of tuition fees by private schools.
As intervenor in the case COPS president Badrinath Pattnaik, on the other hand, pleaded that exemption of tuition fees will not only render the member schools incapable to pay salary of their staff but also make them defaulters as most of them had incurred loans for establishment and operation of the schools. COPS had offered to slash 15 per cent of the school fees.
On April 10, the Chief Minister’s Office had tweeted: “In view of the lockdown & associated economic stress for #COVID19, #Odisha Govt advises all private educational institutions to be sympathetic to consider reduction/deferment of school fees from April to June”.