Ed­u­ca­tions In­sti­tutes

Can Be Chal­lenged in Con­sumer Fo­rums

Consumer Voice - - Front Page - Dr Prem Lata, Con­sumer Awak­en­ing For­mer Mem­ber, CDRF-Delhi

Yes, law is on the side of stu­dents as long as their com­plaints are gen­uine and they are jus­ti­fied in their de­mands. So, if a stu­dent wants to leave an in­sti­tute or course mid­way and is seek­ing re­fund of fees paid in ad­vance for the full course, she is legally el­i­gi­ble to get the same.

The fee re­ceipt that you get at the time of your child’s ad­mis­sion in a new in­sti­tute is one of the long­est re­ceipts wherein you see you have paid for about a dozen el­e­ments. The fee in­cludes tu­ition fee, reg­is­tra­tion fee, an­nual charges, ad­mis­sion fee, de­vel­op­ment fee, cau­tion money, li­brary, I-card… Ba­si­cally, in most cases you get an un­jus­ti­fi­able break- up of the lump-sum amount with a note read­ing ‘the fee paid is not re­fund­able’.

In most cases, stu­dents con­tinue to be in the in­sti­tute till the com­ple­tion of the course even if the in­sti­tute fails to keep its prom­ises and does not de­liver as per ex­pec­ta­tion, all be­cause of the fear of los­ing the mam­moth fee paid. Such stu­dents and their guardians must re­al­ize that if they are pay­ing to an ed­u­ca­tion

in­sti­tu­tion for cer­tain ser­vices and the in­sti­tute fails to de­liver those as promised, they have the right to with­draw from the in­sti­tute and also de­mand the fee re­fund. Even if the in­sti­tute has a clause in its rule­book say­ing that the fee can­not be re­funded, you must know that such rules are not big­ger than that of the coun­try’s law and you can eas­ily chal­lenge them in the court of law.

Although the ad­mis­sion of your com­plaint in the con­sumer fo­rum solely de­pends on its na­ture, there is no con­fu­sion over the fact that col­leges and univer­si­ties can be chal­lenged in con­sumer fo­rums. As ed­u­ca­tion falls in the am­bit of ‘ser­vice’ un­der Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act, all ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tutes be­come provider of this ser­vice and be­come an­swer­able un­der the law.

Cases to Know

The most cited case is that of Bhu­pesh Khu­rana and Oth­ers ver­sus Vishwa Budha Parishad (2001 JRC 240).

After thor­ough un­der­stand­ing of the com­plaint, the State Com­mis­sion held that the ‘ com­plainant’ was a ‘ con­sumer’ as she had hired the ser­vices of the univer­sity for con­sid­er­a­tion. For this, the State Com­mis­sion re­lied upon the decision of the Na­tional Com­mis­sion in a case wherein it was held that im­part­ing of ed­u­ca­tion by an ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion for con­sid­er­a­tion fell within the am­bit of ‘ser­vice’ as de­fined in the Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act. Fees are paid for ser­vices to be ren­dered by way of im­part­ing ed­u­ca­tion by the ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion. If there is no ren­der­ing of ser­vice, ques­tion of pay­ment of fee will not arise. The com­plainant had hired the ser­vices of the re­spon­dents for con­sid­er­a­tion, so she was a con­sumer as de­fined in the Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act.

The court con­cluded: “In the case of the univer­sity or an ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion, their na­ture of ac­tiv­ity is ex hy­poth­esi ed­u­ca­tion, which is a ser­vice to the com­mu­nity. Ergo, the univer­sity is an in­dus­try.” Be­fore ar­riv­ing at this judge­ment, the court had here re­ferred to the decision of the Supreme Court in Ban­ga­lore Wa­ter Sup­ply and Sew­er­age Board ver­sus A Ra­jappa and Oth­ers case (AIR 1978 SC 548).

In 2003, in the mat­ter of Us­ma­nia Is­lamic Academy ver­sus State of Kar­nataka be­ing ar­gued in the Supreme Court, a three-judge bench com­pris­ing Chief Jus­tice KG Balakr­ish­nan, Jus­tice VN Khare and Jus­tice SN Variyavaha pro­nounced a de­tailed or­der hold­ing ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tutes an­swer­able be­fore con­sumer fo­rums by dis­cussing ev­ery as­pect cov­ered by ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tutes in pro­vid­ing ed­u­ca­tion to stu­dents.

This pow­er­ful bench also di­rected Univer­si­ties Grant Com­mis­sion (UGC) to frame rules on the ba­sis of this or­der. UGC ac­cord­ingly framed guide­lines for univer­si­ties that read: They can­not re­tain more than Rs 1,000 as pro­por­tion­ate fee in case stu­dents leaves the in­sti­tute. They can­not re­tain the orig­i­nal cer­tifi­cates. They can­not de­mand fee for the en­tire course, can only ask fee for one term.

How Li­able Are Ed­u­ca­tion In­sti­tutes?

Ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tutes have been, through var­i­ous judge­ments, rep­ri­manded by the con­sumer fo­rums for var­i­ous rea­sons in­clud­ing with­hold­ing sched­uled exams, de­layed dec­la­ra­tions of re­sults and dis­crim­i­nat­ing in is­suance of roll num­bers. All th­ese and many such ac­tiv­i­ties are ser­vices un­der the Act and can be looked into by con­sumer fo­rums. Fo­rums have also held that it is not within their ju­ris­dic­tion to de­ter­mine whether par­tic­u­lar rules in an in­sti­tu­tion’s prospec­tus are il­le­gal or not, but if they defy the promised ser­vice they can cer­tainly be ques­tioned. In many such cases that 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.

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