KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Monday ruled against private schools and barred them from increasing tuition fee by more than five percent.

A three-judge larger bench of the SHC comprising Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Justice Ashraf Jehan announced their verdict which was earlier reserved in June.

An increase of more than five per cent in the tuition fee charged by schools is illegal, the court ruled.

The Sindh government also opposed the raise and contended that the schools could not increase the fees without approval from the competent authority.

A full bench of the high court was hearing identical petitions against increases in tuition fees by private schools in violation of the Sindh Private Educational Institutions (Regulation and Control) Ordinance 2001.

Petitioners Bushra Jabeen, Arshad Fawad, Mohammad Shariq Feroz and 600 other parents have challenged the increases in tuition fees by four private schools in violation of the ordinance.

They said their children were studying at the private schools situated in KDA Scheme, Gulistan-e-Jauhar and Qasimabad and the schools’ administrations had increased the tuition fees by 12 to 60 per cent in violation of the law.

The petitioners’ counsel contended that private schools could not be allowed to make profit from their own choice as education was included in the basic necessities of life like food and health care, and the government had authority to stop the private schools from profiteering.

He submitted that the government had validly passed the act and delegated powers to the authority to make rules on the fees structure which were not contested. He referred to the judgment of the Supreme Court in the flour prices case in which the court observed that the government was bound to take steps against profiteering on essential commodities.

The additional advocate general of Sindh submitted that government had the authority to regulate the private schools with regard to increases in tuition fees and the private schools could only increase the tuition fees with the approval of the competent authority as per the relevant laws.

He submitted that the private schools could not increase fees by more than five per cent and the government did not allow any private school to increase the tuition fee. The private schools’ counsel submitted that the government authority to regulate the fee structure and other relevant rules had been challenged in the Supreme Court and requested the court to adjourn the matter till the disposal of the case.

He submitted that private schools were a competitive business and requested the court to strike down the imposition of the five per cent fee increase cap on private schools. He said that his clients were paying higher salaries to their staff, which was evident from the audit report, adding that the five per cent hike restriction on fees amounted to the denial of schools’ right to do lawful business.

The bench after hearing the arguments of the counsel reserved the judgment in June and in the meantime extended the interim stay order that said the private schools’ administrations should not take any action by way of enhancement of fees or otherwise prejudicial to any students whose parents or guardians were petitioners in the instant case, including and in particular but not limited by way of action on the reminder notices sent to the parents or guardians in relation to the enhanced fees.

Another bench of the SHC on March 5 had quashed a Sindh government’s rule that restricted the private educational institutions to increasing their fees by only up to five per cent and directed the Sindh government to frame the relevant rules within 90 days if it wished to regulate private school fee hikes.