There is a lot of ambiguity regarding the law as related to whether educational institutions come under the consumer protection act. Now a youth’s plea against an institute for allegedly not providing him with an internship or job as promised at the time of admission has been rejected by a Delhi District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum (West) saying that “education is not a commodity” and that “students are not consumers.”
The student had pursued a PG Diploma in Event Management and Public Relations on payment of the requisite fee in the hope that he would be provided an internship and a job as promised by the university. When this did not come about, the complainant, a Noida resident sought a refund of the Rs 3.52 lakh fee paid by him to pursue the diploma from the institute and executive director. He also sought compensation of Rs 40,000 on account of mental pain and agony and deficiency in service.
However, a forum bench headed by presiding officer R S Bagri dismissed the complaint on the basis that education is not a commodity and that the institute is not a service provider. Also the complainant “does not fall within the definition of a consumer as provided under the Consumer Protection Act.”
The question now arises is how does the student get protection when he is charged hefty fees from private institutions, given false promises and hopes for jobs? Isn’t education a service that is provided by these institutes, a commodity that is being sold these days?
The facts are that colleges and Universities are covered under Consumer Protection Law. As education falls in the ambit of service of Consumer protection Act as such colleges and Universities fall under the Consumer Protection law.
While expanding the scope of Consumer Law, the National Commission opened new doors in “Bhupesh Khurana and others, Vishwa Budha Parishad and others” that imparting education falls within the ambit of service. It was held that fees are paid for services to be rendered by way of imparting education by institutions.
Any student becomes a consumer when he attends an educational institution and hires the services of that institution upon payment of fees for attending classes and writing examinations. He becomes a consumer when that fee is accepted from him.
This is a great movement in the direction of Consumer Protection as many “prestigious” private schools and colleges are mushrooming day by day. With false claims of affiliation with well-known universities in India as well as abroad, such institutes charge huge sums in the name of fees and other charges.
Many of these institutions resort to malpractices such as the hiring of unqualified faculty, not holding exams on time, not declaring results for months and not issuing proper certificates. Many of these institutes are run by unscrupulous operators with only commercial motives.
In the last decade, imparting education has become just another business rather than service to the society. What hurts the student more than the loss of hard earned money is that his future is toyed with and put at stake.
In many cases, which have come before the National Commission, the apex consumer court has clearly held that providing education is a service and has compensated the aggrieved consumer.
In a number of cases the non-supply of roll number, unexplained delay in deciding the application for admission, misrepresentation in advertisement and prospectus about the recognition of the college, non-refund of the initial payment as college fee etc. have been held as a deficiency in service.
Consumer courts have held that misleading advertisements by educational institutions can amount to an unfair trade practice and have even directed the institutions to stop such ads in the future.
However, in this case, the consumer forum has accepted the assertion of the institute and its executive director that the complaint was not maintainable as the complainant is not a consumer and that “education is not a commodity”.
The bench, while deciding the matter, considered various verdicts of the Supreme Court, National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and a state commission, all of which had held that students are not consumers.
The youth had approached the consumer forum after he was refused a refund from the institute, which denied the allegations of any unfair trade practice.
Perhaps it is time the laws are clarified on these issues so that innocent students are not taken for a ride losing valuable time and money by private institutes that can hire the best lawyers in their defense.