By Adv Jatin Ramaiya
Educational institutions and activities relating to them are not within the jurisdiction of the Consumer Forums, according to the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi.
In batch of complaints filed by students and their parents against education institutes a full bench of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi, comprising of three senior members, Justice RK AGRAWAL, Justice VK Jain and M SHREESHA held that educational institutes imparting formal and vocational education to the students will not be within the jurisdiction of the consumer forums but however, coaching classes would fall within such ambit.
The grievances of the students ranged from issues pertaining to non refunded fees after withdrawal of admissions, false assurances and representation pertaining to exchange programs, overcharging of transportation for students, fees towards extra circular activities, false assurance of university about their approvals and recognition.
The bench of NCDRC observed, “The main point for consideration is whether all activities associated with educational institutions, whether they pertain to the admission stage are strictly a part of the curriculum or whether these activities are involved in the course of imparting knowledge fall within the definition of education.’”
The full bench heard over 23 complaints and counsel for parties and upon consideration of the same and deducing the law laid down by the Supreme Court of India and many conflicting jugements observed that, “It is clarified that even if there is any deficiency or unfair trade practice in the services offered by private bodies in offering these courses and are not regulated and do not confer any degree or diploma recognized by any approved authority do fall within the ambit of definition of ‘educational institutions’ and hence the Consumer Fora have no jurisdiction to entertain the same.”
The bench further held, “In view of the foregoing discussion, we are of the considered opinion that the institutions rendering education including vocational courses and activities undertaken during the process of pre-admission as well as post-admission and also imparting excursion tours, picnics, extra co-curricular activities, swimming, sport, etc. except coaching institutions, will, therefore, not be covered under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986”
However, carving a distinction between educational institutions and coaching institutes the bench held that “We are of the considered view that conduction of coaching classes does not fall within the ambit of definition of ‘education.’ Coaching centres cannot be equated to regular schools or colleges which are regulated by a authority and also confer a degree/ diploma on the student who has passed in the examinations conducted as per the rules and norms specified in the statute and also by the concerned universities. Therefore, strictly speaking coaching centres cannot fall within the definition of ‘educational institutions’. We refrain from making any comments on the submissions of the learned counsel for the complainants with respect of coaching institutions indulging only in ‘rote learning.’
The bench further held that “For all the afore-noted reasons, we are of the opinion that any defect or deficiency or unfair trade practice pertaining to a service provider like coaching Centres does fall within the jurisdiction of the Consumer Fora.”