Unacademy, Chahal Academy, IQRA IAS: The 18 IAS coaching institutes under consumer watchdog’s glare

It’s not just thousands of candidates who dream to be counted among the UPSC’s success stories.

WrittenBy:Pratyush Deep
Illustration of posters of IAS coaching centres claiming they achieve top ranks.

When India’s apex consumer watchdog decided to take suo motu cognisance of the UPSC coaching industry’s malpractices, it eventually had to fine four institutes and issue a notice to 14 others over a series of allegedly misleading advertisements.

Among the institutes that have been imposed a fine of Rs 1 lakh by the Central Consumer Protection Authority last week are Chahal Academy, IQRA IAS, Unacademy and Rau’s IAS Study Circle. Rau’s IAS has moved the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission to challenge the penalty.

During its probe, the CCPA said it found that 10 prominent institutes had allegedly claimed a total 3,500 successful candidates last year – more than thrice the actual 933. These were Vajirao & Reddy, Shankar IAS, Chahal Academy, APTI Plus, Analog IAS, BYJU’s, NEXT IAS, Drishti IAS, KSG Khan Study Group, and SRIRAM IAS. 

CCPA’s chairperson Nidhi Khare said it’s the first time such an investigation has been launched against IAS coaching institutes. “We took suo motu cognisance of these advertisements and started an investigation. It took us one year to deep dive and analyse all the advertisements.”

The authority’s investigation is still underway as it awaits the response of the institutes that have been issued a notice. 

The UPSC coaching industry

It’s not just thousands of candidates who dream to be counted among the UPSC’s success stories. In the race for revenue, hundreds of institutes part of a Rs 3,000 crore coaching industry put out reams of front-page ads every week, each claiming credit for the success of the less than one percent who qualify the exam. 

While such ads help these institutes get more admissions, each to the tune of as much as Rs 5 lakh annually, such promotional ads may sometimes be misleading, as the CCPA’s findings suggest.

In the case of advertisements in prominent newspapers, websites and other platforms by these institutes, the authority found, it did not matter if those who qualified the exam actually studied at these schools or were just part of a brief engagement, such as a mock interview or test series.

An executive at one of the four institutes that were fined claimed that a lot of money is spent on even mock interviews which many students benefit from. “Why should we not advertise,” he asked, stating that a panel for a mock interview, comprising former officers and domain experts, costs an institute around Rs 1 lakh a day.

Now, a review of the consumer watchdog’s findings suggest that more than half of the ads by these institutes may be misleading.

Let’s take a look at several cases.


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From interview guidance to free tests, a look at the hall of fame

Vajirao and Reddy, which claims to be Delhi’s top IAS coaching academy, claimed it was behind the selection of 617 aspirants, but they had actually only taken the interview guidance programme, according to the CCPA’s probe. 

Similarly, KSG-Khan Study Group, another prominent brand, claimed it had 682 successful candidates, but its ads allegedly failed to mention that 673 of them just took mock interviews. Only nine of the 682 actually took longer courses such as test series and general studies, according to the CCPA’s analysis.

Hyderabad-based Analog IAS claimed 64 selected candidates were trained by them, but 61 of these just took mock interviews, according to the authority.

SRIRAM IAS, one of Delhi’s oldest IAS coaching institutes, announced it was behind over 200 selections, but, according to the probe, only 14 selected candidates had allegedly taken the general studies programme – 55 took free tests and 102 opted for mock interviews.

Edtech giant BYJU’s, meanwhile, claimed 226 selections, but 129 of the selected candidates had just taken mock tests, claimed the investigation.

Shankar IAS also flaunted 336 successful candidates in UPSC, but the probe suggested that only 13 students had taken the general studies programme – 110 had taken the test series and 211 interview guidance.

Meanwhile, all the selected candidates promoted through ads by APTI Plus and Drishti IAS had only sought interview guidance, the probe suggests. 

The spokesperson for APTI Plus, however, denied the charge. “We also had classroom students, test series students, along with interview guidance candidates. We have submitted proof for everything to CCPA.”

IAS Baba, which was also among the institutes that received a CCPA notice, has got a stay on the probe against it from the Karnataka High Court.

Next IAS, Vision IAS, Yojana IAS, Plutus IAS, and ALS IAS were also among the 14 institutes issued a notice by the authority.

The authority has taken action over such misleading advertisements under section 2(28) of the Consumer Protection Act  that prohibits advertisements which falsely  describe a product or service or deliberately conceal important information as misleading advertisement. 

In 2015, the Department of Consumer Affairs had launched a Grievance Against Misleading Advertisements website, or GAMA portal, where consumers can lodge complaints. And over the last three years, over 6,000 complaints, pertaining to misleading advertisements across various sectors, have been lodged.

The four facing fines

Among the four institutes that face a fine, IQRA IAS advertised testimonials of toppers with claims such as “provide the best UPSC online prelims test series 2020”. But these testimonials, the CCPA’s probe suggests, were for coach Avadh Ojha and not for the institute.

Unacademy, on the other hand, allegedly advertised that 26 percent of all UPSC rankers were Unacademy learners, including  three achievers in top 5, 35 in the top 35 and 178 of the top 685. But the CCPA probe alleged that all the 178 selected candidates touted as the Unacademy’s success stories actually belonged to its Last Mile programme – which is a free subscription mock interview.

Chahal Academy, which has its branches spread across the country, pointed out 300  successful candidates, but they had only taken mock interviews, according to the CCPA.

Since its inception in 2020, CCPA has issued 156 notices over misleading advertisements, and in 27 of those cases, they have led to a modification of misleading information.

Newslaundry reached out to all the coaching institutes named in this report for comment. 

Rau’s IAS refused to comment citing the matter is sub-judice. Phone calls to Chahal IAS elicited no response.

Emails have been sent to 15 others. These include Vision IAS, Drishti IAS, Plutus IAS, Yojana IAS, Next IAS, IQRA IAS, Analog IAS, Shankar IAS, Byju’s, Sriram IAS, IAS Baba, KSG Khan Study Group, Vajirao and Reddy group, ALS IAS and Unacademy. This report will be updated if they respond.

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