Forerunning companies in the Indian edtech space have collectively formed a consortium named the India EdTech Consortium (“IEC“) under the aegis of the Internet & Mobile Association of India (“IAMAI“). The members of the IEC have agreed to a self-regulatory mechanism that involves adherence to a common code of conduct (“Code“). The IEC includes startups in the education technology space such as Byju’s, Careers 360, Great Learning, Simplilearn, Toppr, Unacademy, etc. Formed with the goal of increasing and diversifying access to quality affordable education, the IEC adopts a two-tier mechanism for the redressal of grievances relating to a member’s failure to adhere to the Code. Under this mechanism, an aggrieved party may first file a complaint with Tier I and upon a failure by the IEC member to resolve the complaint within 30 days, escalate it to Tier II. The aggrieved party may also file an appeal before Tier II against any decision of a member following the Tier I process.
Tier I – Establishment of the Internal Complaint Forum
Every IEC member is required to establish an Internal Grievance Redressal Mechanism in the form of the Internal Complaint Forum. Under the Code, a member is required to appoint: (i) a Grievance Officer (“GO“), for receiving grievances that relate to the Code and liaising with the Independent Grievance Review Board and the Ministry of Education; and (ii) a Compliance Officer to ensure that the member adheres to the Code, and other applicable laws.
The Internal Complaint Forum, led by the GO, is required to ensure that each admissible grievance with complete information is acknowledged within 48 hours (unless it is filed anonymously). These grievances must then be addressed by the Internal Complaint Forum within 30 days of receiving the complaint.
Tier II – The Independent Grievance Review Board
The Code provides for appeals and escalated grievances by the complainant to be filed before the Independent Grievance Review Board (“IGRB“). The IGRB, comprising of a retired judge of the Supreme Court or a High Court as the Chairperson, and 6 other members, would entertain complaints escalated for not having been resolved by the IEC members (within 30 days) of receipt; and appeals filed against decisions of the IEC members (collectively, “Grievances“).
A. Preliminary Steps
All Grievances would first go through certain preliminary processes to ascertain whether the adjudication of the IGRB is warranted:
- Verification by the Secretariat1
The validity of the appeals/escalated grievances would be verified by the Secretariat within 7 working days from their receipt. These appeals/escalated grievances would also be forwarded by the Secretariat to the IEC member named therein within 3 days. Such a member might also be called upon to share details required for the verification of the appeal/escalated grievance. The IEC member may then provide these details within 3 days for the consideration of the Secretariat. In order for the appeal/escalated grievance to be considered valid for the consideration of the IGRB, it is required to contain the particulars necessary for its adjudication (which may be sought by the Secretariat).
- Registration of grievance by the Secretariat
After the aforesaid verification is complete, the appeal/escalated grievance is registered as a registered grievance (“Registered Grievance“) bearing a registration number, and the complainant and IEC member are intimated about the same by the Secretariat.
- Screening by the Screening Committee
A screening committee, comprising of 3 members from the IEC Council and 2 members from the Secretariat (“Screening Committee“), would then review the grievances within 5 days of the complaint being registered.
If the Screening Committee is of the view that the Code may have been violated, it will forward the complaint to IGRB for redressal within 5 days from registration. However, if the Screening Committee is of the view that the Registered Grievance lacks merit, it will send a written response to the complainant citing the reasons due to which the allegation lacks merit, recommending that the appeal be closed. A complainant wishing to pursue their grievance regardless would be required to respond within 5 days.
In the case of an escalated grievance, the Screening Committee would forward the complaint to the concerned IEC member within 5 days for that member’s redressal within 7 days. In the absence of the same, the complaint would be forwarded to the IGRB.
Upon concluding the screening process, the Secretariat would issue an email to the complainant and the IEC member containing the details of the adjudication before the IGRB, where the parties would be provided an opportunity to represent themselves if it is deemed necessary.
B. Procedure Followed by the IGRB
The IGRB would proceed with the redressal in the following manner:
- Preliminary assessment
The IGRB would initially review the Grievance to determine whether or not there was a Code violation. If the IGRB determines that there is no need for further action or that the allegation lacks merit, it would terminate the process and notify the complainant.
- Deliberation on Registered Grievance and/or written submission/reply
The IEC Member/complainant, upon receiving the registered number of the Registered Grievance may choose to file a written submission/reply within 4 days with the Secretariat. This written submission/reply, along with the Registered Grievance would be deliberated upon by the IGRB at its first hearing (after the aforesaid 4 days have elapsed).
Within 30 working days from the day after the date the Registered Grievance is registered, the IGRB may dispose of the said grievance by passing a guidance/advisory/order and communicating the same to the complainant and the IEC member (through the Secretariat).
If it is of the view that further information is required from the complainant/IEC member, the IGRB may choose to direct the concerned party to furnish the said information within 3 days. The IGRB may choose to have a second hearing to adjudicate the Registered Grievance, within 7 working days of the first.
- Decision of the IGRB
On finding a violation, the IGRB can direct the member to remedy the violation. If the IGRB determines that the violations are of a nature, scope of frequency that require remedial action, it shall notify the member of the reasoning and facts that culminated in such a decision, for the member to implement the same within 30 days. The IGRB also has the power to send an expulsion communication to the member upon its refusal to adhere to the aforesaid remedy or if the complaint in question is the 4th open one.
Any appeal against this order of expulsion would need to be made within 15 days by the member showing cause for why it should be allowed to remain part of the IEC. In such a case, an Appeal Review Panel (“ARP“) would be established within 20 days, consisting of 3 representatives from the IEC selected by the IECMC. The ARP would then have 30 days to accept or reject the explanation of the appellant. Upon acceptance, the member would be required to close all open complaints against it within 15 days to remain a member of the IEC.
This two-tier self-regulatory mechanism to ensure adherence to the Code is a step to unify the standards that govern the upcoming education technology industry and rely on self-governance for efficient adjudication. The mechanism appears to have been devised with the intention of redressing grievances in a streamlined manner and seems to be a promising step for not only the EdTech industry but for the very concept of self-governance.