New Delhi, Feb 25 : The Supreme Court on Thursday said private medical colleges have the autonomy to decide on the fee to be charged, but it is essential to ensure this is reasonable and non-exploitative.

A bench comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat said though it is an agreement with the submissions of private medical college management that the fee, as proposed by them, should be considered by the admission and fee regulatory committee, it is no more res integra that the right conferred on the institutions to fix fee for professional courses is subject to regulation.

The bench noted that fixation of fee payable by students pursing their medical courses in Kerala since 2017-18 has not been finalised till date. One college complained of non-finalisation of fee from 2016-17 and the students are continuing their education after remitting a provisional fee.

"It need not be reiterated that unaided professional institutions have the autonomy to decide on the fee to be charged, subject to the fee not resulting in profiteering or collection of capitation fee. Regulation of fee is within the domain of the Committee which shall ensure that the fee is non-exploitative and reasonable," it said.

The Kerala High Court had directed the committee to take into account only audited balance sheets, and provisional profit and loss accounts in the absence of audited balance sheets, to fix the fee.

The top court termed this direction as "error" as it upheld the argument of senior advocate Jaideep Gupta, representing the state government, that no fetter can be placed on the exercise of power for fee fixation by the Committee, which shall be in accordance with the factors that are mentioned in Section 11 of the 2017 Act.

The Kerala government was also aggrieved by the direction given by the High Court restricting the powers of the committee in exercise of its jurisdiction to fix the fee.

The top court directed the committee to expeditiously reconsider the proposals of the private self-financing colleges for fee fixation from 2017-18 onwards. "It can direct the managements to furnish any information that is required for the purpose of arriving at a decision that the fee proposed by the managements is neither excessive nor exploitative in nature," the top court said.

The court also emphasised that reasonable opportunity should be given to the managements of private self-financing colleges in respect of their proposals for fee fixation, and this exercise should be completed within three months.

The Kerala government and the students of private self-financing medical colleges moved the top court challenging the Kerala High Court judgment delivered on May 19, 2020.

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