College + Deficiency in Service = Compensation : SC
Can a college be hauled up before the consumer forum for misrepresenting that it has affiliation and recognition?
Education, particularly professional courses, has become a money-spinning racket. Several selfstyled ‘colleges’ have mushroomed all over the country. While some of these colleges award diploma certificates which are not recognised, others mislead students by claiming to be recognised without having the necessary affiliation. The malaise is so widespread that even charitable and religious trusts indulge in this malpractice. One case went to the consumer fora and was fought right up to the Supreme Court which ruled in favour of the students.
A group of 11 students filed a consumer complaint before the National Commission alleging deficiency in service and unfair trade practice by the Buddhist Mission Dental College and Hospital in Patna, which is managed by the Vishwa Buddha Parishad. After their Std XII exam, they sought admission to the dentistry course because the brochure stated that the college was affiliated to the Magadh University and was a premier institution under Article 30 (1) of the Constitution of India, fulfilling all the criteria and conditions of Dental Council of India. The brochure also ruled out any capitation fee.
At the time of admission, fees were charged under various heads—admission fee, tuition fee, development charges, charges of consumables, practicals, sports, magazines, library etc. In addition, a sum of Rs 1 lakh was collected in cash from each student without a receipt. Those students who demanded a receipt were silenced with threats that their admission would be cancelled. When classes opened the students realised with a shock that there was no proper qualified staff, no anatomy museum, an illstocked library and ill-equipped laboratory where equipment was either not available or grossly inadequate.Months later came the bigger blow: they learnt that the college was neither affiliated to Magadh nor recognised by the Dental Council of India.
The National Commission upheld the complaint and directed the college to refund the admission expenses along with interest at 12% per annum and Rs 20,000 as compensation to each of the 11 students for the expenses on books, mess and hostel for two years and for the loss of two valuable academic years. Costs of Rs 10,000 were also awarded. However, since there was no receipt of capitation fee/donation, the Commission did not order a refund of this amount.
The college appealed against this order to the apex court. The students filed cross objections claiming a refund of the capitation fee. The college challenged the maintainability of the complaint, contending that imparting education does not amount to trade and so no consumer complaint would lie. On merits, the college argued that it had done its best to get affiliation and recognition. The officer on special duty (OSD), Governor Secretariat, Bihar, had written to the vice-chancellor of Magadh University for taking immediate action in respect of grant of affiliation. Also, efforts had been made to get approval from the Dental Council of India. Yet the desired affiliation and approval were not received.
After considering the rival arguments, the apex court concluded that the college had been deficient in rendering services and the total misrepresentation of facts constituted an unfair trade practice. Therefore, the complaint was maintainable under the Consumer Protection Act. Since the question of capital fee was disputed, a refund could not be ordered. However, considering the college had played with the career of the students and virtually ruined two academic years, the apex court directed payment of further compensation of Rs 1 lakh and costs of Rs 1 lakh, aggregating to Rs 2 lakh per student.