consumers beware!
Lessons schools need
Pushpa Girimaji

I have just admitted my daughter in a private school. The school is insisting that I buy the uniform from the school shop, even though it is available in the market and costs 25 per cent less.

You should talk to the school about this. If you can get together some more parents, it will add weight to your representation. Tell the school if they want parents to buy from the shop, they should sell it at a price lower than the market. Given the huge orders, the manufacturer should give the school a good discount. It would be in the interest of parents if they form parents' associations and take up issues such as this. There is after all, strength in unity.

If the school does not change its ways, you can complain to the Department of education. Since such a practice (forcing parents to buy from a particular shop) is an anti-competitive and a restrictive practice, you can also complain to the Competition Commission of India. You can also seek redress through the consumer courts against such restrictive and unfair trade practice.

The driver of the school bus in which my children travel to school is known to be a rash driver. Despite repeated complaints, the school is not changing the driver. I am worried about the safety of the children. Can I go to the consumer court?

I would not recommend the consumer court at this stage. Since this is a matter of safety, you cannot lose even a day and have to take immediate steps to stop that driver from plying the school bus. First, write a formal letter to the principal demanding that the school change the driver forthwith. Draw the attention of the school to the mandatory Supreme Court guidelines on school bus safety and say that the school will be hauled up for contempt for failing to follow it. As per the SC guidelines, every school bus has to have a speed governor (obviously even this has not been provided in this bus) and any driver who has been challaned even once for the offence of over-speeding, drunken driving, rash and negligent driving, etc, cannot be employed for driving a school bus.

The character of the driver too becomes extremely important. Remember the ghastly gang rape of that young physiotherapy student in a moving bus in Delhi last December? The main accused in the case was the driver of a school bus. In S.Somasundaram vs the Correspondent, Sri Chakravarthy International Matriculation Academy (FA no 518 of 1994), the apex consumer court said that: A school's responsibility does not end with providing quality education. The safety of the students is as much an integral part of the service provided by it. It also made it clear that schools will be held responsible for any negligence in the matter. Remind the school about this too in your letter.

Send a letter to the Department of Education and the Transport Department to enforce the SC guidelines.

I would suggest that parents go in large numbers to the school and make it clear that they will not allow the school to play with the lives of their children. By the time the school reopens after summer vacations, the school should have buses that are fully compliant with the Supreme Court guidelines. In fact, you can demand some additional safety features too.