Noting that appointments to consumer courts across the country have been marred by “political and bureaucratic influence”, the Supreme Court on Monday said these courts, meant to be a corner-stone of a vibrant consumer movement in a rapidly growing economy, have hardly lived up to expectations.
Instead, the consumer courts have been plagued by indiscipline, lack of quality members, poor salaries and grossly inadequate infrastructure – leaving the common man who come to them stranded for justice.
“Poor organizational set up, grossly inadequate infrastructure, absence of adequate and trained manpower and lack of qualified members in the adjudicating bodies. Benches of the State and district fora sit, in many cases, for barely two or three hours every day and remain non-functional for months due to a lack of quorum. Orders are not enforced like other orders passed by the civil courts,” a judgment by a Bench of Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur and Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and A.M. Khanwilkar observed.
Justice Chandrachud, authoring the verdict, directed the Centre to frame sweeping model rules for the consumer fora within four months.
Norms for staff
These rules shall incorporate objective norms for the assessment of quality of the members ability, their salaries, term of office, etc, and would be finalised after due consultation with the President of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.
After the Supreme Court approves the rules, the State governments shall adopt the rules under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.
The judgment is based on the findings of the Supreme Court's Committee led by former apex court judge, Justice Arijit Pasayat. The panel had made an assessment of the prevailing conditions in the States of Orissa, Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Jharkhand. The Committee had also analysed the prevailing position at the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, as well as the State Commission in New Delhi.
The Committee had found that most non-judicial members in consumer fora were not even capable of writing or dictating orders. It was found that there were only 118 sanctioned posts as against a requirement of 322, while pendency of cases as on September 30, 2016 was 11,379.
In the case of Tamil Nadu, the judgment said the post of president and members of the State Consumer Commission had been lying vacant for over a year.
“The Committee was assured by the Principal Secretary, Consumer Affairs, Tamil Nadu on May 31, 2016 that these appointments would be cleared within a short period. However, until the date of the report, no steps have been taken,” the Supreme Court observed.