Does the college or deemed university your son or daughter has just left to join another institution refuse return the original certificates? Or, does it demand the fees for the rest of the semesters (three or seven) to return the certificates? Does it also refuse to refund the tuition fees although your ward has not attended classes a single day or attended only a few days? Hereafter, if any institution does this, it will be slapped a fine of Rs.1 lakh for each such offence.

These have been described as unfair practices in the new Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical Educational Institutions, Medical Educational Institutions and Universities Bill, 2010, waiting to be passed in Parliament now. As the existing remedies are woefully inadequate, the public heartily welcome this Bill.

The Bill provides for educational tribunals in every State and one at the Centre to handle these complaints exclusively and award penalties.

Collecting more than the prescribed admission fee (penalty Rs.1 lakh) and collecting money without receipt and demanding capitation fees (penalty up to Rs.1 crore, besides confiscation of the capitation fee) have been defined as unfair trade practices.

Publication of the prospectus 60 days before the commencement of admissions is mandatory. The prospectus should contain the components of fee and other charges, the percentage of refund of the tuition fees and other charges when a student leaves the institution and the manner of refund; the number of approved seats, the conditions of eligibility, age limit, the prescribed educational qualification, the admission process, details of the faculty, namely, their qualification and teaching experience, and their minimum pay, information on the physical and academic infrastructure including training facilities in hospital or industry, the broad outlines of the syllabus and information on discipline and anti-ragging measures.

The prospectus shall be published on the website and in prominent newspapers and through a booklet priced on a non-profit basis. Every condition should relate to a statutory norm. Misleading advertisements on recognition or facilities and anything done contrary to the information in the prospectus will attract a fine up to Rs. 50 lakh. If it is a trust or society, for other violations, the penalty is up to Rs.10 lakh. Failure to pay the penalty would invite imprisonment ranging from one month to three years with fine.

As the offences mentioned are cognisable, access to a judicial magistrate is not barred. The remedy by the tribunal is in addition to the existing laws.

The burden is on the institution to prove that such an offence was not committed. The statutory authority can call for any information from these institutions. The Standing Committee suggested that it must include other unspecified unfair trade practices.

While parents, academics and students have welcomed the Bill, a few deemed universities have objected to it. Certain deemed universities have the practice of advancing the opening date to July 14, while the NIT conducts its seventh counselling only in the middle of August. This is to punish the students who leave the universities after getting selected in NIT counselling by retaining the tuition fees. The 90-working days norm (reason touted for early opening) is only a guideline and shortage in the first semester is always condoned. A uniform last date of admission and withdrawal all over India will help.

The sooner the Bill becomes an Act, the sooner the rules are framed and the Act is implemented, the better for the public.

(The writer is Secretary, Consumer Protection Council, Tamil Nadu, and his email ID is consumerpc @rediffmail.com)

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