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Installation of air conditioners in schools cannot be a ground to hike tuition fees for paying electricity charges, the Delhi High Court today said. It said providing facilities of ACs in the school cannot be connected with the curricular or co-curricular activity. The order came while declining to uphold the 15 per cent hike in tuition fees, by two city-based school, towards power charges and running of the AC system they had installed. Justice V K Rao said that capital expenditure, like for setting up an air conditioning (AC) system, has to come from the savings made from the tuition. The court also said that even if electricity bills are a revenue expense, they cannot be met by increasing the tuition fees. "The installation of air conditioning system cannot be termed to be connected with curricular activity and co-curricular activity. That apart the capital expenditure has to come through savings from the tuition. It is not the case of the petitioners that it is on account of savings that they have funded the air conditioning system. "If that is so, the expenses incurred for electricity charges for running the AC system cannot be by way of increase in tuition fee.
It is immaterial if defraying of electrical bills is in the nature of revenue expense but still, cannot be qualified to be met by way of increase in tuition fee, at least in the facts of this case," the judge said.
The ruling came while dismissing the plea of the schools against a June 16, 2016, order of the Delhi government's Directorate of Education (DoE) holding that the 15 per cent hike in tuition fees was illegal.
The schools had challenged the order saying, they hiked the tuition fee to meet the expenses incurred in maintaining and running the AC system and in paying the electricity bills for the same, which are all recurring expenses in the nature of revenue expenses.
The schools had also claimed that AC have been installed for an academic purpose, the running cost for the same is thus a revenue expense for the improvement of curricular facilities.
Disagreeing with the schools, the court said the DoE's order "rightly held" that the charges for the electricity bill cannot be included in tuition fees and overheads, nor it is expenses on play-ground, sports equipment, cultural activities etc. And also on co-curricular activities. The electricity bills can only be claimed under the head annual charges. The schools had also contended that if the charges can be claimed under annual charges and not tuition fees, then they have not done anything illegal. Rejecting the argument, the judge said "The same does not appeal to this court, more so when there is a finding in the impugned order (of DoE) that the schools have already increased annual charges in the session 2015-2016. The school could not have further claimed the electricity charges under the head annual charges." The court instead found "appealing" the DoE's contention that the increase in tuition fee has a cascading effect on, development fee, annual charges, and, the tuition fee of the next academic session. The court also observed that "schools are permitted to levy development fee only if they maintain Depreciation Reserve Fund equivalent to the depreciation charges in the revenue accounts and the collection under this head along with income generated from investments made out of this fund are kept in a separately maintained Development Fund Account." It said that no prejudice would be caused to the schools if such an account was maintained by them. The court also rejected the schools' contention that they have maintained a Depreciation Reserve Fund from the year 2014-15 onwards and that they have increased the fund to Rs 1.58 crore and Rs 1.21 crore, respectively, as per directions of the DoE.