Extension of service of members

An order issued by the president of the Kerala State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (KSCDRC) extending the term of office of one panel member whose term is due to expire on March 30 has become a controversy with political shades. Also, the extension of the term of office of president of the Kasaragod Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum T.K. Siddique has been questioned on grounds that both these orders have been issued in contravention of the existing provisions of the Consumer Protection Act and by usurping the powers of the State government to make such appointments.

The controversial order was issued by the KSCDRC president P.Q. Barkathali on March 6 extending the term of office of Mr. Abdulla Sona till a new member was appointed citing the work disruption that might be caused owing to the member’s retirement. He has been asked to continue till a new member joins the commission. According to legal experts, the power to make appointments was fully vested with the government under the Consumer Protection Act and there was no provision that empowered the president to make temporary appointments or extend the term of office of an outgoing member.

The appointments of commission members and district forum presidents are carried on the basis of the recommendations of a selection committee comprising the Commission president, Law Secretary and the Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department Secretary. It is pointed out that that the Consumer Protection Act does not have any provision to extend the term of office of a member. There was no provision for reappointment of a member in the original Act, but this was later amended making way for the reappointment of a member whose term had expired. Other than the issue related to reappointments, the law was silent about extension of term of office or temporary appointments, sources said.

Over and above the legal tangle, the issue is all set to become a political issue, since the appointments to the commission and the district forums are carried out on political considerations. The United Democratic Front (UDF) government appointed Mr. Barkathali, former judge, as the commission president after Mr. Udaya Bhanu, also a former jude, remitted office at the end of his term in February 2012. Mr. Abdulla Sona and the Kasaragod district forum president T.K. Siddique were appointed by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government. But neither has the UDF taken a political stance nor has the Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department taken the initiative to ensure that the arising vacancies are filled on time. UDF sources said that the coalition leadership should take an unambiguous political stand on this issue.