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Posted at: Nov 29, 2015, 2:16 AM; last updated: Nov 26, 2015, 8:35 PM (IST)CONSUMERS BEWARE!

Don’t learn it the hard way

There are several laws and regulations that prohibit false and misleading advertisements
Don’t learn it the hard way
Whenever you come across advertisements that you feel are misleading or false, you can complain on the website of the Union Ministry Of Consumer Affairs http://gama.gov.in Tribune photo

Pushpa Girimaji

I often see advertisements that are highly misleading and even blatantly false. As a teacher, I feel very concerned, particularly about advertisements pertaining to educational institutions that make false claims to attract students. Is there anything I can do in the matter?

Yes, concerned citizens like you can do a lot to stop such advertisements and protect consumers, including students. Whenever you come across advertisements that you feel are misleading or false, you can complain online on the website of the union Ministry Of Consumer Affairs, provided specifically to deal with such complaints about advertisements. The website is http://gama.gov.in. The ministry forwards the advertisement to the regulator concerned for suitable action and follows it up. You can also track the status of your complaint online.

I do not know if you are aware of this, but there are several laws and regulations that prohibit false and misleading advertisements. The Cable Television Network Regulation Act and Rules, for example, mandate that all advertisements transmitted through the cable television network adhere to the advertising code formulated under it. It also prohibits any advertisement that violates the Advertising Code for Self-Regulation formulated by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), a professional body of all those involved in advertising, including the advertisers, advertising agencies and the media.

Similarly, the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act prohibits advertisements pertaining to drugs and magical cure and is enforced by the health departments in State governments.

Likewise, all regulators, including the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority, Securities and Exchange Board of India and the Reserve Bank of India, have formulated regulations to curb false and misleading advertisements in the sectors they deal with.

While all these laws are meant to curb such advertising, the Consumer Protection Act gives consumers the right to seek compensation for any loss or damage caused on account of such false and misleading advertisements. The law also gives the consumer courts constituted under it, the power to stop such advertisements and issue directions for corrective advertisements. The consumer courts have dealt with many such cases of false and misleading advertisements, including those issued by educational institutions and awarded compensation to the victims.

As I said earlier, the ASCI also has a code of advertising practice and as part of its efforts at self-regulation, examines complaints against advertisements and asks advertisers to withdraw those found to violate the code. You can thus also complain online on the ASCI's website

In fact, I would recommend that you look at the ASCI's website, ascionline.org. The ASCI has a code for educational institutions and it would help you in your endeavor if you go through it. 

Can you quote a couple of cases pertaining to educational institutions with regard to their advertising?

In Buddhist Mission Dental College and Hospital Vs Bhupesh Khurana and Others (Civil appeal no 1135 of 2001), the Supreme court came down heavily on the college 'for playing with the careers of students', resulting in the loss of two academic years and awarded a compensation of Rs 1 lakh to each of the eleven students who had filed the appeal. 

This was in addition to the relief given by the apex consumer court (the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission) which had directed the college to refund the fees collected from the students, along with 12 per cent interest and also pay Rs 20,000 as compensation to each of them. 

In this case, the college had falsely claimed in its advertisement that it was affiliated to Magadh University and was recognised by the Dental Council of India.

In Tesol India Vs Shri Govind Singh Patwal (RP No 2501 of 2010), the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission held the college guilty of unfair trade practice for promising 'guaranteed overseas jobs' in its advertisements and asked the college to refund the fee along with interest and costs of litigation to the six students who had lodged the complaint, saying that the promised jobs were not provided. In addition, the Commission awarded compensation ranging from Rs 7,500 to Rs 20,000 to the students.

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