June 3: The Kerala High Court Wednesday restrained two schools in the state from levying additional fees on students for holding virtual classes during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A single-judge bench of Justice C.S. Dias noted in his order that the right to education was sacrosanct in the Constitution of India and is the mandate under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, The Print reported.

The order comes two days after a 14-year-old girl allegedly committed suicide in Malappuram because she could not attend online classes. Her family did not have either a television set or a smartphone. According to her parents the family had a small TV but it was not functioning and they did not have money to get it repaired in the last three months during the nationwide lockdown. 

Justice Dias referred to this “disheartening” incident in his order. The judge invoked the court’s powers under the Kerala High Court Act and said he was taking up the matter on additional fees for virtual classes as it involved “substantial public interest”.

Though parents of some students were present in the court when the order was pronounced, a formal petition was not there before the bench. The judge had taken note of the request made to him by parents, and the matter being a public interest litigation (PIL) was ordered to be placed before a two-judge bench.

“Notwithstanding this reference, in view of the adverse situation prevalent in the country due to the Pandemic, I direct the respondents 6 and 7 (schools) not to levy any additional fee from the children of the petitioners until further orders,” the order read. He also directed parents to file a physical copy of the writ petition, which shall later be placed before the Chief Justice of the High Court for further orders.

The court noted that states and union territories have formulated guidelines for the conduct of online classes, which state that students should not be denied education for “want of payment of fees during this pandemic period”.

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