Disposing of an appeal by students of Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala, against a single bench order, a division bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court directed the university to charge only 50 per cent of the hostel rent from the students for the 2020-21 academic session and refund the remaining amount, if deposited, within four weeks.
A division bench of Justice Augustine George Masih and Justice Vikram Aggarwal passed the order on Monday while hearing a letter patents appeal (LPA) filed by the aggrieved students, Aditya Kashyap and others.
In 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the students had sought a reduction/waiver in several fees, pointing out that the hostel premises had been vacated and academic activities were going on in online mode. The university, however, only relented on a reduction/waiver under certain heads, prompting the students to move the high court, which ruled in the university’s favour. The students then filed an LPA against the single bench order.
The counsel for the students, Chetan Mittal, had contended that it was highly unfair that the university only charged 25 per cent rates from the contractors who ran the mess, shops and canteens whereas full rent was charged from the students.
“…the only thing which is weighing in the mind of this court is that respondent No.2 (the university) charged only 25 per cent of the rent from the contractors of mess, canteens, shops etc., and there is absolutely no justification in charging the entire hostel rent from the students,” the division bench said on Monday.
“Those were tough times for everyone. The students were out of the hostel rooms not out of choice but out of compulsion. Their belongings were left in the rooms. There was panic and fear all around. Those who did not have secure jobs were suddenly faced with loss of income. While people were trying to make their two ends meet, the burden of fee etc. was putting them under additional pressure,” the bench added.
The appellants, through counsels senior advocate Chetan Mittal, with Sarthak Gupta and Varun Dutta, had submitted that regular classes were suspended from March 14, 2020, on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. The students were asked to vacate the hostel premises and online classes commenced. On May 18, 2020, the students submitted a representation for reduction/waiver of fees under various heads. The matter was taken up by the finance committee, which in its meeting held on June 20, 2020, took a decision that the annual increase of Rs 5,000 in the tuition fee for the academic year 2020-21 would be waived off and that mess charges would not be taken till the operations of the mess resumed.
The aggrieved students moved the high court. However, a single bench dismissed the writ petition while holding that the decision taken by the finance committee was “not perverse, unreasonable or arbitrary”. The students then filed an LPA against the single-bench order.
After Mittal pointed out that it was unfair that only 25 per cent charges were charged from contractors running the mess, shops and canteens, the university in its reply submitted that the hostel rent was charged as part of a composite fee and, therefore, it would not be possible to segregate the fee under different heads. Also, it added, though the classes had been suspended and the students had left the hostel, the university incurred huge expenditures in maintaining the hostel and other areas of the campus. The university counsel also said that the students cannot equate the issue of hostel rent with that of canteens, shops etc. because the possession of the canteens, shops etc. was with the university but the possession of the hostel rooms was with the students.
Holding that the university was not justified in charging the full hostel rent from the students for the period in question, the high court on Monday disposed of the appeal, directing the university to charge only 50 per cent of the hostel rent from the students.