Byju’s was already having a tough year — it’ had delayed filing its financial results enough to have to government take notice, it was forced to lay off 5000 employees, and it’s now reportedly having to renegotiate some of its outstanding loans — but it’s also facing heat from some unexpected quarters.
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has summoned Byju’s CEO Byju Raveendran over allegations that malpractices had been committed by the sales team. The sales team allegedly lured parents into buying Byju’s courses for their children. The summons came after an media report quoted customers who said they had been exploited and deceived by the K-12 online tutor, eroding their savings and putting their future in jeopardy.
The Commission has now asked Byju’s CEO Byju Raveendran to appear in person before it at 2 pm on December 23 to respond to the allegations. It also instructed him to provide details of all the courses run by Byju’s for children, the structure of the courses, fee details, number of students enrolled in courses, refund policy, and even legal documents recognising Byju’s as a valid edtech company among other documents.
Byju’s acknowledged it had received the missive. “We have received the summons yesterday. We are compiling a transparent response based on facts to address the unsubstantiated complaints. We will clarify our position before the commission if required,” a Byju’s spokesperson said.
NCPCR says it took action after receiving multiple complaints from parents about Byju’s courses. “We had got this complaint earlier as well. This is not the first time. Last time, we had simply written to the Ministry of Education. After this, the Ministry of Education had released guidelines,” NCPCR Chairman Priyank Kanoongo told ET.
“In the residential colony where I stay, maids and daily wage workers would raise complaints that Byju’s…salesmen would get papers signed by these uninformed parents, take their PAN cards and other necessary documents, and start loans in their names. This is such a dangerous modus operandi,” the chairperson added.
This issue had also been raised in Parliament last year. “Companies are now engaging in predatory marketing practices in which they prey upon the aspirational poorer people who want to give their children a better education, who want to supplement the education which they’re not getting in government schools,” MP Karti Chidambaram had said in the Lok Sabha, and had even gone on to hint that he was talking about Byju’s. “They force them to buy these courses, and they auto debit their bank accounts. Even if the parents want to stop these courses, they can’t stop these auto debits. (These companies) are becoming like loan sharks, and they’re force selling these courses,” he had alleged.
After a series of such reports from varied sources, NCPCR has decided to take action. NCPCR is a statutory body dealing with protection of child rights as well as other matters related to deprivation of child rights. It has certain powers, under Section 14 of the CPCR Act of 2005, as a Civil Court to try a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. “Now, if they violate the guidelines, we are not going to spare them… they have to appear before the commission,” the NCPCR Chairman said.