Chennai: The National Medical Commission should determine the fee structure in accordance with the NMC act 2019 for the academic year 2021-22- the Madras High court made this remark while dealing with a petition opposing the imposition of an unreasonably high and arbitrary fee for PG medical and dental courses by the deemed universities of Puducherry.
The bench has further ordered the fee fixation committee to fix the fee for PG medical and dental courses. The court added that the fee should be fixed for the said courses in Deemed Universities, from the academic year 2017-18 onwards till 2020-21, until the NMC and UGC come up with fixed guidelines.
The court has also instructed the concerned authorities to initiate a refund of excess fees and to pay them back to the students.
This came after the petitioner approached the high court praying for a writ of declaration to declare that the collection of fees and other charges for the various Medical and Dental courses by the Deemed to be Universities under Clause 11.01(b) of the UGC [Institutions Deemed to be Universities] Regulations, 2019 or otherwise without obtaining prior approval from the Statutory Fee Committee constituted either by UGC or the Government of Puducherry shall be illegal.
The petitioner also sought direction for the universities to initiate a refund of the excess amount collected from the students over and above the maximum annual fees approved by the respective Statutory Fee Committee for medical and dental courses in Puducherry together with reasonable interest within a prescribed time limit.
The petitioner stated that due to the prohibitive fees charged by the respondent Deemed to be Universities, many students who have cleared the admission process after undergoing counselling and have been allowed provisional admission have not been able to join by reason of their inability to deposit Rs.40 lakhs to Rs.50 lakhs at short notice and the seats are lying vacant.
The petitioner added that the amount is prima facie unreasonably high, arbitrary and prohibitive. Further, it was pointed out that the fee was not notified at the time of counselling as is required to be done. The petitioner also referred that the Hon’ble First Bench held that they are of the prima facie view that a Fee Committee ought to be constituted by the UGC to fix fee structure in self-financed Deemed to be Universities upon a comprehensive study of all relevant factors including reasonable cost that may be incurred for education of each student.
The court took note of the Supreme Court’s observation in P.A.Inamdar vs. State of Maharashtra [(2005) 6 SCC 537] where the Court held
the admission of students in medical institutions as also fee charged by such medical institutions are ex-facie matters of immense public importance and the court cannot shut its eyes to impediments in the way of individual litigation by young students and the Court can take note of the facts pleaded by a public-spirited citizen in a public interest litigation and suo motu pass orders to redress the grievances of the student community.
The court further observed that the provisions of the NMC Act came into force with effect and Section 10 of the Act provides for the powers and functions of the NMC. Hence, NMC shall frame guidelines for determination of fees and all other charges in respect of 50% seats in private Medical Institutions and Deemed to be Universities which are governed under the provisions of the NMC Act, 2019. Further, NMC shall have to constitute a Committee to frame the guidelines for determination of fees and all other charges in respect of 50% seats in private Medical Institutions and Deemed to be Universities which are governed by the said Act.
The court was informed that the first round of counseling commenced from 27.10.2020 and the same was concluded on 16.11.2020. Thereafter, the second round of counselling has commenced on 20.11.2020 and concluded on 08.12.2020 and therefore, it would not be possible for NMC to formulate guidelines at this stage for the academic year 2020-2021. Further all decisions on fee fixation for a particular academic year have to be mandatorily taken prior to the commencement of the counselling so that the prescribed fee can be informed to the aspiring candidates seeking admission in various medical colleges.
After considering the submission, the court stated
Since there is hardly any time left for NMC to constitute a Committee to frame the guidelines for determination of fees and for that Committee to frame the guidelines. Therefore, it shall be appropriate that for the current academic year 2020-2021, the fee fixed by the Fee Regulatory Committees, following the procedure devised by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the judgments in T.M.A.Pai Foundation and Islamic Academy of Education be followed. Further, for the subsequent academic year 2021-2022, NMC will take appropriate steps for framing Fee Fixation guidelines.
The court further observed that ” in no uncertain terms, NMC has stated that they would not be able to frame the guidelines for the academic year 2020-21, but would be able to do it for the subsequent academic year and parallelly, they would state that the fee fixed by the Fee Regulatory Committee may be followed. Thus, the two statutory bodies are in the process of completing the task entrusted to them; one by the Court insofar as UGC is concerned; and the other by a statutory mandate under the NMC Act, 2019. “
Finally, a Division bench of Justices TS Sivagnanam and V. Bhavani Subbaroyan ordered
Thus, we are left with a period during which there is no statutory guideline regulating the fee structure for the medical and dental courses offered by the respondent institutions. It would be too late for the respondent institutions/Deemed to be Universities to raise a contention that the Puducherry Fee Committee cannot regulate their fee structure. This is more so in the light of the direction issued by the then Hon’ble First Bench dated 16.06.2017 wherein, the Court took into consideration that the fee collected by the respondent institutions is unreasonably high, arbitrary and prohibitory. That apart, as pointed out by the petitioner, by referring to the decision of 2020 P.A.Inamdar, unless the admission procedure and fixation of fees regulated and controlled at the initial state, the evil of unfair practice of granting admissions on available seats guided by the paying capacity of candidates would be impossible to curb.
Thus, the Court ordered that fees for PG medical courses shall be fixed by the Puducherry Fee Committee from the academic year 2017-18 till 2020-21.
The writ petitions are disposed of with the following directions:-
(i) The Puducherry Fee Committee shall fix the fee for the respondents/Deemed to be Universities for the Post Graduate Medical and Dental courses from the academic year 2017-18 onwards till 2020-21;
(ii) The fixation shall be an ad-hoc fixation and shall abide by the fixation to be done under the UGC Regulations which is in the process of finalization subject to the approval and orders of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in W.P.(C) No.949 of 2018 pending before the Hon’ble Supreme Court wherein, an order has been passed on 15.04.2019 and while directing the UGC Committee to determine the fee structure, the direction has been issued not to implement the same until further orders of the Hon’ble Supreme Court;
(iii) The NMC, as undertaken, shall determine the fee structure in accordance with the NMC Act, 2019 for the academic year 2021-22; and
(iv) Upon fixation of the fee by the Puducherry Fee Committee, the adjustment, i.e., making good the deficit or granting refund, shall be carried out in terms of the directions issued in paragraph 22 of the order dated 16.06.2017.