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“Student”: Whether a Consumer under Consumer Protection Act, 1986?

December 7, 2019

By Rupin Chopra and Priyanka Batra

The Indian education sector is a prominent and burgeoning industry. This sector has witnessed tremendous growth in the past decade with the proliferation of innumerable institutions across the nation. However, the mushrooming of these institutes has resulted in dilution of education quality due to independent management of these institutions. In such a situation, it is often the students who suffer the most as a student spends resources and time in the educational institution with the expectation that it will eventually help him/her in shaping their career.

Who is a consumer?

The term “consumer” has been defined in Section 2 (1) (d) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 as: “any person who buys any goods for consideration or hires/avails any services for consideration”.

The Consumer Protection Act, 1986, as amended in August 2019, provides protection to the interests of the consumers and aims at resolving their disputes. One of the main question of law that is always raised at the time of deciding a consumer complaint is whether the complainant falls within the definition of consumer as enumerated under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986?

Whether a ‘student’ can be considered as a consumer?

A student is one who avails educational services in exchange of a particular amount of fee paid by him to such service provider. In such circumstances, the education so provided can be considered as ‘services’ under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 as the student pays a certain consideration towards those services. Therefore, if a student is aggrieved by the services of an educational institution, the student’s approach to the Consumer Forum and the Forum deciding the matter thereafter can determine his status as a consumer.

Judicial Approach

In the matter of Vishal Gaonkar V. Engineers Learning Institute[1], 2016, the North Goa Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum had held that when an institute receives the required fee from the student but does not conduct the examination, such act amounts to deficiency of services. The student has every right to get a refund of the amount paid by him to the institute. Based on this consideration, the Forum ordered the institute to refund the amount so paid by the Complainant along with some damages for harassment faced by the individual.

In another case of Anand Institute of International Studies v. Sani Jaggi & ors.[2], 2019, the NCDRC, upheld the decision of the District forum and State Commission and ruled in favor of the students who were aggrieved by an institution due to lack of basic educational facilities and false advertisement misguiding them to undertake admission in such institution. It was further found that the institution also lacked required affiliations and was continuing operations without getting the same. The District Forum considered the contentions raised by the students and held that inadequate facilities amounts to deficiency in services and false advertisement further promotes unfair trade practice.

Further, in a recent matter of FIITJEE Ltd. V. Vikram Seth[3], 2019, the Hon’ble Chandigarh State Commission, upheld the decision of the District Forum and granted compensation to the aggrieved student towards refund of fees for not availing services of the institute. The Forum held that when a student does not avail the services of an institute, it is bound to refund the fees received by it. Not doing the same amounts to unfair trade practice and deficiency in services.

Conclusion-

In light of the above facts and circumstances of the cases, it is observed that the judicial authorities have recognized the rights of the student as a consumer and the entitlement of compensation to them in the event of deficient services or unfair trade practices.

[1] Consumer Complaint No. 49/2014, Goa

[2] Revision Petition No. 767 of 2019, NCDRC

[3] Consumer Complaint No. 699 of 2017, Chandigarh

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