Education plays an integral part in our life and the Indian market as well. India has now become one of the largest network of education institutes in the world. The number of universities and colleges in India had reached to 39,050 and 903, respectively and had 36.64 million students enrolled in higher education in 2017-18.(1) India also attracts a lot of foreign institutes and is only a few years away from becoming an education hub.
But with these great developments comes a great responsibility, of regulating the education sector. There are as many as 23 fake universities in the country.(2) There have been many cases of fraud being committed on students by their universities or colleges. Some other cases deal with the grievances of students who were either not paid the requisite amount by their institution after they withdrew their admission or were not given marks properly after the board examination or were victims of misconduct of board examination etc.
To protect the interests of such aggrieved people, the ‘Consumer Protection Act’ was passed by the government in 1986. It protects the consumers against the malpractices of the service industry and acts as an advocate of consumer rights. But, the most important question is if the educational institutes and students come under the definition of ‘service providers’ and ‘consumers’.
Does Education fall under the purview of the Consumer Protection Act ?
The answer to this question can be found with the help of several previous judgments. The judgment passed by the National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission(hereinafter referred to as NCDRC) in the case of ‘Bhupesh Khurana And Ors. vs Vishwa Buddha Parishad And Ors’(3) related to the university publishing falsely in its prospectus of being affiliated to the Dental Council of India and being governed by the Magadha university, Patna, Bihar whereas it was to the contrary in reality. The students who had taken part in the university under the impression of it being affiliated to the DCI and Magadha University, felt cheated and filed a case. The court in this case held that the act of imparting education by an educational institute comes under the definition of service as per the ‘Consumer Protection Act’. Had there been no service provided, there would have been no consideration paid on part of the student.
In another case of S.D. Seth Mathews And Anr. vs Mahatama Gandhi University,Kerela(4) , which dealt with the university cancelling the private registration of a pre-degree certificate to the complainant after two years of registration as it didn’t recognize the qualifying examination i.e. SSLC(compartmental), Tamil Nadu. This hassle caused a lot of inconvenience to the complainant as his two years were lost in preparations and hence filed a case demanding damages against this casual approach of the university and also contending that there was a deficiency in services by the university.
Deficiency is defined under the section 2(1)(g) of the Consumer Protection Act as – "deficiency" means any fault, imperfection, shortcoming or inadequacy in the quality, nature and manner of performance which is required to be maintained by or under any law for the time being in force or has been undertaken to be performed by a person in pursuance of a contract or otherwise in relation to any service.
The NCDRC took cognizance of the decision passed in Bhupesh Khurana case the act of the university of being imperfect in their manner of performance of rejecting the pre-degree certificate of a candidate after two years of his registration does come under deficiency in performance of duties.
Similarly, in the case of Sonal Matapurkar V. Niglingappa Institute(5) , in which a dental institute admitted student over and above the student admission capacity and were then not allowed to take the university examinations. The NCDRC held in this case that it was deficiency in administration on behalf of the institute and ruled in favor of the defendant.
But there have been many cases where the supreme court has held contrary to the aforementioned decisions and the scope of COPRA has been restricted.
Bihar School Examination Board v. Suresh Prasad Sinha, (2009) 8 SCC 483 – In this the Bihar School Examination Board issued the same roll number to three students for the board exam and was sued for deficiency of services under the COPRA. But the Supreme Court in this case said ruled that functions like issuance of roll numbers, maintenance of records of the students , issuance of certificates are all statutory functions and don’t come under the ambit of COPRA. This judgment is against the 2001 judgment, passed in the Bhupesh Khurana case which held that educational institutes can be held liable for negligence under the COPRA.
P.T. Koshy v. Ellen Charitable Trust, (2012) 3 CPC 615 (SC) – In this case, the SC held that educational institutes do not render any service through imparting education and thus no case of deficiency can be filed against them. It was also said that the consumer courts have no jurisdiction in governing them. This judgment stands in defiance to all the cases discussed above and hence lacks any legal ground.
Relief against coaching centers and tuition centers
Private coaching centers which don’t come under ambit of University Grants Commission and are not governed by any state or central education board but can be sued for deficiency in their teaching standards, if found. In the case of FIIT JEE vs Dr. Minal Rathi, (6) the State consumer Dispute Redressal Commission of Delhi held that even though coaching centers are not statutory bodies but they prepare students for competitive exams by charging hefty fees but still don’t guarantee admissions into IITs or NITs and hence the students who pay this hefty fees will be considered as ‘consumers’ and coaching centers as ‘service providers’ under Consumer Protection Act. Further, in the case of Allen Career Institute vs Anil Kumar Sharma(7) , the State Consumer Redressal Forum, Chandigarh ruled that the act of taking entire course’s fees at one go and then not returning back even a single penny on withdrawal of the child amounts to unfair trade practice. Judgment to the similar effect has also been passed in the case of Jaipreet Singh Kaushal vs Fiit Jee Limited & Anr.(8)
One must also acknowledge that in today’s world it’s very imperative to cover ‘education’ under the COPRA else wise it would lead to gross injustice and the aggrieved students would find it really difficult to keep a check on the malpractices of the educational institutes.
Education & Training Industry in India , https://www.ibef.org/industry/education-sector-india.aspx (visited on 7th September,2019, 9:45 a.m.)
Fake Universities, https://www.ugc.ac.in/page/Fake-Universities.aspx(last accessed on 7th September,2019, 9:45 a.m.)
Hereinafter, ‘Bhupesh Khurana’ case.
S.D. Seth Mathews And Anr. vs Mahatama Gandhi University , September, 2001, NCDRC
Sonal Matapurkar v. S. Niglingappa Institute, 1997(2) CPJ 5 (NC)
State consumer Dispute Redressal Commission of Delhi , judgment passed in 2006.
Case was filed before the ‘State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission’ of Chandigarh, and the decision was given on 08th april 2019.
NATIONAL CONSUMER DISPUTES REDRESSAL COMMISSION Revision Petition number 918/2015.
Rajas M. Salpekar,
Year I, B.A.LL.B.,
National Law University, Nagpur
(Image used for representational purpose only. Image Courtesy: https://mediaindia.eu/freestyle/celebrating-world-consumer-rights-day/ )