Debasis Bhattacharya, Member
This appeal u/s 15 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (for short, 1986 Act) has been filed by the Gandhi Institute of Management & Technology being the OP Nos. 1&2 in the complaint, against the Order dated 15-09-2014, passed by the Ld. District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, North 24 Parganas (for short, District Forum) in C. C. No. 550/2013. By the impugned order, the instant complaint case has been allowed on contest against the OPs. Being aggrieved by and dissatisfied with the same, OPs thereof have preferred this appeal.
Case of the Complainant, in short, is that, he took admission at the OP Institution for undergoing BBA course over there in the year 2011. At the time of admission, he was given to understand by the OP that it was offering regular BBA course under the Eastern Institute for Integrated Learning in Management University (for short, EIILM University). Later on he came to know that it was not a regular course, - in the certificates issued to successful students on completion of course, it was shown as long distant course. Being suspicious, he visited the Jorethang campus, Sikkim of the EIILM University to know the actual fact. On enquiry, he learnt that the University Grants Commission (for short, the UGC) did not give any approval to EIILM University to run distant course or to open any study centre on franchise basis. So, the Complainant served a legal notice to the OP, but to no avail. Finding no other alternative, Complainant filed the case before the Ld. District Forum seeking relief.
On the other hand, case of the OP Institution is that, it is not simply a coaching institute; it offers regular classes as the candidates would have received at the distant concerned University. Thus, by pursuing courses under the OP Institution locally, students save spending for tuition fees, conveyance, boarding & lodging at a far away place of the University. The Complainant, after completing two academic years and obtaining mark sheet from EIILM University for the 1styear course, was trying to make speculative gain by claiming back the fees shown on the brochure and prescribed by the OP. It denied that it had duped the Complainant in any manner and prayed for dismissal of the case.
The core issue to be decided in this case is whether the impugned Order suffers from any irregularity.
Decision with reasons
Ld. Advocate vehemently disputed the maintainability of the case under the 1986 Act. In support of its contention, the Ld. Advocate referred to two decisions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, reported in2009 LawSuit (SC) 1468 & 2010 LawSuit (SC) 486and another two decisions of the Hon’ble National Commission, reported in2015 LawSuit (CO) 2404&2014 LawSuit (CO) 443. On the other hand, Ld. Advocate for the Respondent, defending his decision to file the instant case before the Ld. District Forum cited three decisions of Hon’ble Supreme Court reported in(2011) 6 SCC 145 & (2009) 4 SCC 473and also in Writ Petition (Civil) No.986/2013.We have carefully gone through the above mentioned decisions of Hon’ble Courts and read between the lines of Sec. 2(1)(d)(ii) of the 1986 Act, which runs as under:-
"consumer" means any person who…..hires or avails of any services for a consideration which has been paid or promised or partly paid and partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment and includes any beneficiary of such services other than the person who 'hires or avails of the services for consideration paid or promised, or partly paid and partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment, when such services are availed of with the approval of the first mentioned personbut does not include a person who avails of such services for any commercial purposes;
Explanation.- For the purposes of this clause, 'commercial purpose' does not include use by a person of goods bought and used by him and services availed by him exclusively for the purposes of earning his livelihood by means of self-employment.'
Now, let us consider, whether the Educational Institutions at all render any service to students, or not.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘Service’ means,'an act of assistance'. The Merriam Webster describes ‘Service’ as,'contribution to the welfare of others'. ‘Service’ is defined by the Macmillan Dictionary as,'help that you give to someone, especially by using your skills, ability, or knowledge'.
Be it further mentioned here that inBangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board v. A. Rajappa & Others, reported inAIR 1978 SC 548, the Hon’ble Apex Court has been pleased to observe as under :-
"...In the case of the University or an educational institution, the nature of the activity is, ex hypothesi, education which is a service to the community…. "
There can be no two opinions as to the fact that educational institutions contribute to the welfare of students by honing their inherent skills and aptitude through their faculty members, who render due help/assistance to students by using their skills, ability and knowledge in the concerned field/sphere.
Thus, going by aforesaid dictionary meaning as also the solemn observation of the Hon’ble Apex Court, we find that the Appellants rendered service to the Respondent, and most importantly they did so against fee. Thus, every element to qualify as a 'consumer' as stipulated u/s 2(1)(d)(ii) of the 1986 Act being present here, in our considered opinion, the Respondent has rightly filed the case before the Ld. District Forum.
Next we proceed to dwell on the grievance of the Respondent vis--vis counter claim of the Appellants.
It is the case of the Appellants that the Appellant Institution, being an educational Institution, offers, different courses of distant education. The Universities appoint and/or select some organizations as their coordinator, who enroll students, remit necessary fees, send documents and necessary certificates and the examination is only supervised by the Appellant Institution, but preparation of question papers, evaluation of answer sheets and publication of result is done by the concerned University. It is further claimed that the Appellant Institute has the approval of various Universities like Annamali, Periyar & CMJ, National Centre of Internship & Studies, All India Management Association to offer Post Graduate Diploma and Management programme being approved by AICTE, Govt. of India, Ministry of HRD etc. It is also claimed that the function of the Appellant Institution stands confined to arranging classes, recruit faculties, arrange for examination etc.
Undisputedly, the Appellants, acting as a coordinator of the EIILM University, enrolled the Respondent for the BBA course, collected fees from him, arranged classes, provided both theoretical and practical training, conducted the examination under the supervision of the EIILM University. It appears from the various documents on record that the EIILM University was not authorized to open study centre/off campus centre beyond the territorial jurisdiction of the State of Sikkim. The UGC has not granted any approval to the University to open off campus/study centre and the degree awarded by it was valid if the course was conducted in regular mode at the main campus of EIILM University, which is not the case here.Given such circumstances, the mark sheet issued by the EIILM University in favour of the Respondent is most likely proved to be a useless piece of paper. Being the Coordinator, it was incumbent upon the Appellants to ensure that they represent such Universities that possess due approval of the concerned statutory authorities. Under any circumstances, the Appellants cannot escape their liability for jeopardizing the career prospect of the Respondent by enrolling him in a course being illegally run by the EIILM University. Without having due approval of the UGC,
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the EIILM University, or for that matter the Appellants should not have admitted students in BBA course and in the process, wasting their valuable academic years. Against this backdrop, the impugned Order is fully justified one and there is no irregularity with the same. Clearly, the Respondent fell prey to the total misrepresentation of the Appellants which was tantamount to unfair trade practice. The Respondent was admitted to the BBA Course for receiving education for consideration conducted by the EIILM University which was seemingly not authorized to impart education through off campus/study centres. This clearly falls within the purview of deficiency in service as defined in the1986Act. Accordingly, the present appeal fails. Hence, ORDERED that A/39/2015 be and the same is dismissed on contest against the Respondent. No cost.