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Consumer Act covers education too, rules panel, fines engineering college

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The Times of India | Manish Raj | TNN | Nov 21, 2016 |

CHENNAI: Can educational institutions claim blanket immunity from the Consumer Protection Act saying they were not service providers, nor education a commodity? No, said a consumer forum here slapping an engineering college with a fine of Rs 15,000 for causing mental agony along with a direction to refund around Rs 1.5 lakh collected as fee for college facilities from a student who withdrew admission a few days after joining the course. Though the panel’s order pertains only to a hostel-related issue, it could be applied to almost every fee, barring tui tion fee, paid by a student, including transport, hostel mess, hygiene, uniform and identity card. It also covers the money paid for non-academic activities during the course period.  According to GVK Sankar Narayanan, he had admitted his daughter, Layavarjitha, for MCA course in SSN College of Engineering. He paid Rs 36, 000 as tuition fee and Rs 1.54 lakh for facilities like transport, books, lab , wifi, id card and digital library on August 3, 2015. Layavarjitha joined the hos tel a week later, only to va cate it in three days due to “homesickness.” The college, however, refused to refund the fee, and Narayanan slapped a legal notice on the college.

 As this too didn’t evoke a response, Narayanan moved the district consumer disputes redressal forum, South Chennai, claiming compensation and refund. In its counter, counsel for the college administration said the complaint could be dismissed as the Supreme Court had already established the precedent that the student was not a consumer, nor were the educational institutions rendering any service.  Counsel for Narayanan, however, said according to another apex court verdict, the educational institution was an industry , and all students were customers. According to AICTE rules, a technical institution had to refund the entire fee, except a token amount of Rs 1,000, if a student withdrew admission before the course commenced. As Layavarjitha had discontinued the course for personal reasons, the tuition fee could not be refunded.But the fee collected for other facilities had to be returned, ruled the consumer forum’s bench.  It then directed the college to refund around Rs 1.5 lakh with interest after deducting Rs 3,000 along with payment of Rs 10,000 as compensation for causing mental agony and Rs 5,000 as case costs. –  Courtesy

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