Special Content

Vol.26, 2017

Education and Consumer Rights

Dr. Sheetal Kapoor

Commercialisation of education in India demands that students and parents need to be cautious about educational institute. While taking admissions in a school or college or technical institute one should never be in a hurry. Always check the credentials of the institute before seeking Admission in it and don't be swayed by misleading statements made by the educational institutes.
Under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 if an institute fails to provide proper service or is involved in an unfair trade practice and gives wrong statements in its brochures, prospectus and advertisements a legal case can be filed against the institute under 'deficiency in service' and 'unfair trade practice'. 'Deficiency in service' means any fault, imperfection, short-coming or inadequacy in the quality, nature and manner of performance which is required to be maintained by or under law or which the provider of service has undertaken to perform in pursuance of a contract. For example, not providing proper labs and infrastructure by an educational institute and advertising about them in prospectus is a deficiency in service.
An 'Unfair trade Practice' as defined under the CPA is a trade practice where a trader adopts any unfair or deceptive method or practice for the purpose of promoting the sale, use or supply of any goods or services. Section 2(r) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 defines what constitutes an unfair trade practice. Amongst them Misleading Statements covers all kinds of 'commercial speech' used by an educational institute. It can be in the form of advertisements, pamphlets, leaflets, signboards or even an oral statement.
Any such statement, whether orally or in writing or by visible representation, which has the effect of making a false representation on any of the following specific aspects provided under section 2 (1)(r) of the Consumer Protection Act, shall be considered to be a misleading statement. 
(i)That the services are of a particular standard, quality, grade which they fail it shall amount to unfair trade practice due to misleading statement on quantity.
(ii)That the services have approval, sponsorship, performance, characteristics, uses or benefits which such services do not actually have, e.g. if an advertisement claims that an institute is approved by the Indian Medical Association, and in fact it is not so approved, it amounts to an unfair trade practice.
(iii)That the Institute has an affiliation, sponsorship or approval which it does not have, e.g., a college claims that it has affiliation to a foreign university, which it does not have, may amount to an unfair trade practice.
(iv)That the services satisfy a need or use which they actually do not satisfy, e.g., qualified teachers which in reality it does not do, will result in an unfair trade practice.
One of the recent judgements given by the National Commission with regard to refund of fees and deficiency of service by an educational institute has been mentioned here. The facts of the case are that the complainant Govind Prasad Rath admitted his son Anjan Kumar Rath to Sri Chaitanya Educational Institution in a course which had to last for two years. He paid Rs 90,000 to the Institution towards admission fees, boarding charges, etc. The student was withdrawn from the college on account of his ill-health and food problem. The complainant mentioned in its complaint that the food in the hostel was prepared in unhygienic conditions which resulted in the student developing food problem. On withdrawing his son from the institution, the complainant asked the institution to refund the money, which he had deposited. Since the institution refused to refund the fees, the complainant filed a consumer complaint in District forum alleging deficiency in service.
The complaint was resisted by the Institute and they denied any unhygienic condition in preparation of the hostel food. It was further stated that once a student is admitted, there is no scope for admission of another student on his seat for the next two years and in case they are made to refund the fee on withdrawal of the student they would suffer financial loss in running the Institution.
The District Forum after hearing both the parties directed the Institute to refund the amount of Rs 90,000/- along with interest @ 12% p.a. being aggrieved by the order passed by the District Forum, the opposite party filed an appeal in the State Commission which was dismissed. After that the complainant filed a revision petition in National Commission. The Commission found that due to poor quality of food many students including the complainant's son suffered from food poisoning and therefore the complainant had withdrawn him from the Institute. Further the petitioner could not produce any rule of the Institution prohibiting filling of vacant seats on account of withdrawal of students. Thus, the National Commission upheld the order passed by the District Forum.
(The author is a Consumer Expert and Associate Professor, Department of Commerce , Kamala Nehru College, University of Delhi)e-mail : sheetal_kpr@hotmail.com