Setting aside an order passed by the state commission, the national consumer disputes redressal commission (NCDRC) clarified that assessment of the academic and overall performance, including ‘conduct and character’ of a student, in an educational institution made by the faculty as part of its working in the ordinary course is beyond the scope of the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act.
In an order, the bench of Dinesh Singh (presiding member) and justice Karuna Nand Bajpayee (member) says, “…we do not at all agree with the state commission’s observation in its order that ‘the opposite party has not only caused deficiency of service but also followed unfair trade practice against the complainant’. The evaluation or assessment of a student’s performance by the faculty of an academic institution imparting a degree in medicine can by no stretch of imagination have similitude with a trader or service provider selling goods or providing services. ‘Deficiency in service’ or ‘unfair trade practice’ by a trader or service provider in respect of ‘goods’ or ‘services’ as are within the purview of the consumer protection act are not at all relevant or related or applicable to the evaluation or assessment of a student’s academic and overall performance including ‘conduct and character’.”
Kanyakumari-based Shreem Mookambika Institute of Medical Sciences (SMIMS) had filed the appeal before NCDRC challenging an order passed by the Kerala state consumer disputes redressal commission.
Tripur-based V Balasundar Raj was pursuing his bachelor of medicine, and bachelor of surgery (MBBS) degree from SMIMS. After completing the curriculum, he was undertaking his compulsory rotating resident internship (CRRI). He wanted his resident internship transferred to Christian Medical College (CMC) at Vellore from SMIMS.
However, SMIMS refused the transfer because the rules did not allow it. Mr Balasundar approached the Kerala High Court (HC) which decided in his favour. In compliance with the HC’s 31 January 2013 order, the Institute issued a no-objection certificate (NOC) on 6 March 2013 and a transfer certificate (TC) on 4 February 2013 to enable Mr Balasundar to transfer his internship to CMC Vellore. The transfer of internship took place.
In the TC, SMIMS evaluated his ‘conduct and character’ as ‘not satisfactory’. Mr Balasundar challenged this evaluation before the Kerala state commission.
In an order on 14 August 2019, the state commission directed SMIMS to issue another TC to Mr Balasundar, stating that his ‘conduct and character’ is ‘satisfactory’ and to pay him a compensation of Rs20 lakh along with Rs10,000 as litigation expenses within one month.
SMIMS then approached NCDRC. Senior counsel RP Bhat, representing the Institute, submitted that the conduct and character of the student were assessed as not satisfactory as it was the fair opinion of the faculty. He also contended that the assessment of the academic and overall performance, including the ‘conduct and character’ of a student by a medical institution imparting a degree in medicine, is beyond the scope of a consumer protection forum.
Even otherwise, institutions rendering education—except coaching institutions—are not covered under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, Mr Bhat submitted.
Advocate Ritesh Khare, representing Mr Balasundar, contended that the complainant’s ‘conduct and character’ was assessed as ‘not satisfactory’ only because he had approached the HC and obtained an order in his favour.
Senior counsel Bhat, in his rebuttal, submitted that there is no evidence at all to show that the Institute was biased just because Mr Balasundar had approached the HC. “Seeking legal remedy was his lawful right, and there can hardly be any reason for bias or any reason to take umbrage on that count. The state commission appears to have passed its order on surmises and conjunctures without a shred of evidence having a basis, in fact, to show that the institute was biased. The ‘not satisfactory’ assessment was the fair, unbiased opinion of the institute’s faculty taken in the normal course of its working,” he stated.
After hearing both sides, NCDRC bench says it finds merit in the submission of Mr Bhat that there is no evidence to support the allegation of bias on the part of the Institute in assessing Mr Balasundar’s ‘conduct and character’ as ‘not satisfactory’.
Allowing the appeal and setting aside the order passed by the state commission, NCDRC directed the registry to immediately send to all parties and upload a copy of the order on its website.
(First Appeal No1900 of 2019 Date: 25 April 2023)