New Delhi: Given that even three and a half decades after the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act, there has been no clarity as to whether educational services fall within the scope of the Consumer Protection Act, the Supreme Court’s decision to consider the matter in depth and bring finality to the matter is welcome.
It should also be remembered that the Consumer Protection Act 2019 replaced the 1986 Act, with greater emphasis on the enforcement and protection of consumer rights and the new provisions should now be taken into account. when interpreting the law. More importantly, the CP Act 2019 provides for a regulatory body – the Central Consumer Protection Authority – to protect the rights of consumers and this is all the more reason to ensure that education services come firmly within its scope.
Complaints about the education sector fall into three broad categories: the first relates to exam-related issues, such as errors in answer sheets and grade cards caused by poor quality assessment and calculation, the second variety concerns a wide range of unfair practices, including false and misleading advertising; and the third category is the lack of safety awareness in educational institutions, leading to fatal accidents.
In the absence of some initial ambivalence regarding exam-related issues, the National Commission for the Redress of Consumer Disputes took educational institutions to task on a number of issues and awarded compensation for the loss and suffering suffered by students and parents, one of the most notable being the cost of damage to the parent of a three-year-old girl who drowned in a septic tank left open on the grounds of the ‘school. The Commission has made it clear that student safety is an integral part of the service provided by educational institutions (S. Somasundaram Vs Sri Chakravarthy International Matriculation Academy, 2001)
However, the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law soon began to affect the decisions of the National Commission, and the Supreme Court’s dissenting opinions only added to the confusion.
In Buddhist Mission Dental College and Hospital Vs Bhupesh Khurana (2009), for example, the Supreme Court not only upheld the National Commission’s order, but significantly increased the compensation awarded to eleven students who had lost two academic years due to misrepresentation by the institution about its recognition and affiliations
However, in PT Koshy Vs Ellen Charitable Trust (2012), the highest court categorically stated that education is not a commodity and educational institutions do not provide any type of service and therefore , such matters cannot be considered by the consumer forum under the CP Act, 1986. In a few previous cases in 2009 and 2010, it had also held that an examination board carrying out its statutory function was not a service provider, nor the applicant, a consumer. .
But in P.Sreenivasulu Vs PJ Alexander (2015), the Apex Court reiterated that educational institutions fall under the jurisdiction of CP law. However, in 2017 at Anupama College of Engineering Vs Gulshan, he recanted his position in the PTKoshy case.
For example, when Manu Solanki and eight others filed a lawsuit against the University of Mission Vinayaka, a grand bench of the National Commission reviewed the Supreme Court’s decisions in detail and concluded that all educational institutions and related activities were outside the scope of the CP Act and dismissed this. On the same grounds, she also rejected the appeal of the father who had sought compensation for the death of his child by drowning in a school swimming pool (Ragendra Kumar Gupta Vs Dr Virendra Swarup Public School).
Both cases went to the Supreme Court. While granting leave in a special leave application filed by Rajendra Kumar on October 29, 2021, the Supreme Court observed that an appeal regarding whether education is a service within the meaning of the CP Act was already pending in court (Manu Solanki’s civil appeal was admitted in 2020) and that it should be labeled with that.
This Supreme Court decision has raised the expectations of millions of students across the country and we really hope that the highest court in the land will not let them down this time.