‘Unfair to withhold student`s degree for dues’

It is unfair for a university or college to withhold a student`s degree to recover dues, the apex consumer court has ruled.

New Delhi: It is unfair for a university or college to withhold a student`s degree to recover dues, the apex consumer court has ruled and said it would be preferable for the institution to move a civil court to get its money back.

"Such kind of practice is not fair," the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission said in a recent ruling in connection with a case involving Sushith, a student pursuing an MD degree in biochemistry, the Manipal University and the Kasturba Medical College in Karnataka.

The court directed the university and the college to pay Rs 10,000 as compensation to Sushith, 32, before February 6, 2013.

The commission`s Presiding Member VB Gupta also questioned why the college and the university did not move a civil court to recover the alleged dues of Rs 9.3 lakh from Sushith, a resident of Mangalore, whose degree was withheld.

The case reached the national commission after the university and the college appealed against an order of the Karnataka State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, Bangalore, favouring Sushith.

Sushith`s degree was withheld for allegedly breaching an agreement with the university and the college that required him to serve there for five years after completing the course -- failing which he was supposed to repay the entire tuition fee whose burden was borne by them.

The national commission said: "Even if it is held for a while that...the student is liable to refund the tuition fee, the remedy is still open to the university and college to recover the same by approaching an appropriate civil court."

"When such an equally efficacious remedy is readily available to them, they cannot illegally retain the said degree certificate," Gupta said in the order.

Sushith said in his complaint that he took admission to post-graduate degree course in MD in biochemistry for academic year 2005-06 and passed the course in 2008.

The college was required to issue him a degree certificate confirmed by the Manipal Academy of Higher Education. But despite repeated requests, it refused to issue the certificate and withheld it, he said.

The college dean and the university registrar said Sushith`s original degree certificate was retained as a lien as he owed Rs 9.3 lakh as tuition fee and stipend, which they paid during his course.

They said that they could not be forced to provide the certificate for which they had not received any consideration.

The university and the college claimed that Sushith executed an agreement with them May 23, 2005, along with two sureties but he failed to abide by the conditions incorporated in it and remained away from duty after the course.

He was supposed to start serving in the college from Dec 1, 2008, but allegedly stopped reporting to office from Dec 9, 2008, they said.

The apex consumer commission dismissed their plea and said: "Petitioners have placed on record copy of `service agreement` dated May 23, 2005, executed between the parties. This agreement does not contain any condition or clause by virtue of which the university/college is entitled to retain the degree/certificate of Sushith as a lien till he performs the terms of the agreement."

Endorsing the findings of the Dakshina Kannada District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, Mangalore, and the state commission, Gupta said: "The district forum has properly considered both oral and documentary evidence and rightly come to the conclusion. Retaining of the degree certificate is otherwise compelling the complainant to serve under them. Such kind of practice is not fair."

"The appellant (university and college) have failed to show before this commission that the impugned order under appeal is erroneous, unjust and improper and that it suffers from legal infirmity, is unsustainable in the law and there is error apparent on the face of record requiring our interference. Appeal appears to be devoid of merit," said Gupta.