education sector vis consumer laws

Education Sector vis Consumer Protection

Education Sector vis-a-vis Consumer Protection. While I begin writing this article, two cousins are fighting a protracted legal battle, a battle against an Institute of National Importance, a battle to secure a seat through an examination in which thousands of candidates across the country appear every year. In the year 2006, both women got shortlisted in NIFT Kolkata, while they had applied for admission in NIFT Delhi. Their attempts to withdraw their admission and apply for a full refund bore no fruit when neither the admission was cancelled nor the full fee, which was approximately 6 lacs, was refunded back. While the women claimed they had to suffer emotional and financial distress, the institute contended that the admission had been done following the due procedure and could have suffered losses after the Counselling process had been done. What followed was a consistent blame-game going on for the past 14 years, with neither party willing to back down.

Commoditization of Education

We belong to the land of teachers like Dronacharya and Guru Vashishth whose teachings have shaped up the greatest Kings and philosophers. The ruins of Nalanda and Taxila bear witness to years of highly formalized Vedic learning.

However, in recent years there has been a slight shift in the standard and mode of the education system in India by the increased involvement of the private sector which has led to both positive and negative changes. Educational institutions are now focusing on tendencies and interests of students, a direct example of which is present-day admission brochures released by colleges and universities.[1] As of now, the privatization of the education system has resulted investing with the private sector such numerous powers that students’ rights are being prejudiced. This would not have been possible in the presence of a proper regularization mechanism.

The problems with implementing such a mechanism are also not any less complicated. Although many issues can be remedied through better-designed laws and policies, it must also be remembered that such laws and policies can only address issues arising on a large scale. For example, the Regulations passed by the Bar Council of India in respect of law schools, which deal with various aspects including the courses which are required to be taught, threshold infrastructural requirements of campuses, examination procedure, etc. would help ensure uniformity in the law programs offered across Indian law schools. But this is not possible in case of issues arising on an individual or particular basis. While changes at the macro level can be of immense use and are necessary to ensure the maintenance of quality standards and accountability in the sector, they are not adequate for redressing every minor yet significant issue, which can arise in respect of a sector.

Notable Judgments

The consumer forums across India had initially favored the consumer-service relationship in the education sector. In Ram Kumar Aswani v. M/s A.K. Structural Foam Ltd.[2] it was held that a student applying for revaluation of his result comes under the definition of a “Consumer”

In Registrar H.P University v. Suresh Kumar[3], a University directed to pay compensation of Rs. 50,000 with costs to the complainant who was wrongly rejected after being selected for admission.

But the Supreme Court of India has held a different view. In the case of Maharshi Dayanand University v. Surjeet Kaur[4], the Hon’ble Court held that educational institutions are not providing any kind of service, therefore, matters of admission, etc. cannot be entertained under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The same view was adopted in the Bihar School Examination Board v. Suresh Prasad Sinha[5]. The latest judgment in P.T. Koshy & Anr. v. Ellen Charitable Trust & Ors[6]., has followed the above views.

Therefore, now the situation is complex and ambiguous. At this juncture, it is of vital importance to analyze the various functions of educational institutes to determine that whether their activities are classifiable under the conventional definition of service as per Section 2(1)(o) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 or not.

The most recent judgment in this regard is that of National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission- Manu Solanki and Others v. Vinayak Mission University[7], where the Supreme Court’s views have seeped in the Commission’s judgment.

Conclusion

Contradictions will always be raised on account of increasing consumerism in education. One way it leads to political responsibility and to be remedied on an individual level but on the other side, it also encroaches freedom of educational institutions for imparting education.[8] In a country like India where economic slowdown and scarcity of jobs is prevalent, privatization of educational institutes is unavoidable to some extent and thus so complete exemption of educational activity from the purview of the Consumer Protection Act is not viable as long as the interest of students is concerned. At the same time, a student should not get any undue privilege in contravention of the existing rules and regulations specifically mentioned in the statute and Acts of the university with illegitimate demands as a consumer of service. Therefore, in conclusion, educational institutes come within the ambit of consumer protection law as long as the complaint is genuine and a legal right or interest of the student is prejudiced due to inefficient and deficient service or unethical trade practice by the educational institutes.

[1] Chet Bower, ‘Education, the Individual, and Consumerism’, UNESCO – ENCYCLOPEDIA OF LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEM, March 12, 2014.

[2] 1993 CPC 383.

[3] 2007(2) CPC.

[4] CIVIL APPEAL NO. 6807 of 2008.

[5] CIVIL APPEAL NO. 3911 of 2003

[6] SLP No. 22532/2012

[7] CONSUMER CASE NO. 261 OF 2012.

[8] Neville Harris(Reviewed by Lee Bridges) ‘Law and education: regulation, consumerism and the education system’ P.L. 1995, Spr, 186-188

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