After a long blockade, the Kashmir Valley is trying to limp back to normal life. Schools and other educational institutes are slowly opening. But this has posed another challenge to already bogged down locals. The schools, upon opening, are demanding the bus and transportation fees even for the period the schools remained completely shut.
In March this year, Basharat Ahmad had enrolled his 4-year-old son at a local private school in Srinagar.
His son went to school for barely six months when the government shut off all the educational institutes across Valley following the reading down of special constitutional provisions of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5.
A couple of weeks ago, Ahmad met with the management of the school to enquire about the resumption of routine class work. While Ahmad was provided with no definite information on it, the management instead asked him to deposit the tuition and bus fee since August.
Ahmad, who runs a small stationery shop in the town, is badly off owing to the long-drawn lock down. Although over last one month he has started opening his shop briefly during the early hours of the morning and some times in the evening too, only a few customers walk into his shop.
" We are in a desperate situation. Our business is running into huge losses", said Ahmad.
Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries, a principle traders' body in Kashmir, has pegged the economic losses at one billion rupees by September due to the protracted shutdown being observed by the people to protest against the Modi government's radical move of stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status and splitting it into two union territories-- Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
Ahmad asked why he should be made to pay the fee for the period during which the schools were completely shut and there was hardly any academic activity.
Like Ahmad, thousands of parents in the Valley got agitated when private schools started demanding the tuition and bus fee from them.
Mohammad Altaf, a local cab driver said that he was asked by the school management to deposit ₹12000 as the last four month's tuition fee for his three children.
"Although the strike has somewhat slackened now , commercial transport is yet to fully hit the roads. Over the last four months, we have hardly earned anything. We are not able to pay EMIs of our vehicles and the private schools are only adding to our miseries by demanding the fee", said a distraught Altaf.
He added that the school of his children did not hold classes even for a single day for over past four months.
The government had announced to re-open all the educational institutes up to higher secondary level from October 5. The students, however, were uable to attend the schools due to the consistent lockdown and absence of transport. Although in a few far-off rural areas some government schools resumed the normal class work, the private schools largly remained shut.
Recently, the Divisional Commissioner directed private schools to take only tuition fee from the parents while giving a full waiver in transport fee.
The Private School Association, Jammu and Kashmir( PSAJK), however, has decided otherwise.
" We have decided to receive full tuition fee and give a 50 percent waiver in transport fee ", said GN Var, President of PSAJK.
According to Var, the authorities should have taken both the parents as well as the members of PSAJK on board before taking a call on the issue.
In 2016, Var says, when the Valley remained shut for more or less six months following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, the private schools gave a full waiver in both tution and bus fee to the children of small business men and transporters who suffered losses and were grappling with financial troubles.
"We have always accommodated the poor sections of society" Var adds.
On November 28, in response to a PIL seeking full waiver of tuition and bus fee during the closure period, Jammu and Kashmir High Court issued notices to the government and other respondents including Director School Education, Kashmir.
The respondents have been asked to file their responses January 28, 2020.
As the protracted strikes in the Valley over past one decade have all but become a routine affair, the issue of paying tuition and bus fee during the lockdowns between the private school owners and parents crops up usually.
In 2015, The Jammu and Kashmir High Court constituted "committee for fixation of fee of the private schools" with a retired high court judge as its chairman. The Committee, however, is headless since June this year.