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Toppers of India’s civil services examinations will no longer enjoy unfettered, round-the-year advertising revenue from institutes that offer coaching for Union Public Service Commision (UPSC) exams and use these ads to attract future students.

All successful candidates will now have to terminate their contracts with such institutes after signing the joining letter following the declaration of results, according to a communication from the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) to the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT), the cadre-controlling authority of all officers selected through various competitive exams conducted by UPSC.

This comes after a CCPA inquiry concluded that the way coaching institutes use photos of IAS toppers in their ads falls under the ‘misleading advertisement’ and ‘unfair trade practices’ clauses of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. The CCPA report, which Mint has seen, said that coaching centres resorted to misleading and exaggerated claims to lure aspirants. Section 2(28) of the Consumer Protection Act defines a ‘misleading advertisement’ as one that falsely describes a product or service, or gives a false guarantee to mislead consumers by concealing important information.

The coaching industry in India is worth 58,088 crore, of which civil-services-exam coaching contributes 3,000 crore, according to the CCPA report. Delhi is considered the hub for civil-services-exam coaching.

In the letter, which Mint has also seen, the CCPA suggested that DoPT enforce the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1964 for all candidates who continue to feature in ads for coaching classes and as their brand ambassadors for the whole year. The conduct rules clearly state that no government servant will engage directly or indirectly in any trade or business or undertake any employment. Citing CCPA’s report, the letter highlighted that important information, such as the course chosen by successful candidates, is deliberately concealed from consumers in advertisements.

CCPA has issued notices to 20 IAS coaching institutes, including Vajirao & Reddy Institute, Sriram’s IAS and Drishti IAS, for misleading consumers by concealing important information. For instance, Vajirao & Reddy Institute claimed that 617 students from their centre cleared UPSC exams 2022. In its reply to CCPA, it said that all of them are from the interview guidance programme, meaning none were enrolled in ‘costly’ foundation courses.

UPSC civil service exams are conducted in three phases. The first is a preliminary screening test, the marks for which are not counted in the next two phases – the mains and the personality test.

Queries sent to DoPT, CCPA, Vajirao & Reddy Institute, Sriram’s IAS and Drishti IAS were not immediately answered.

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Updated: 28 Nov 2023, 04:41 PM IST



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