Supreme Court wants vacancies in consumer dispute bodies filled up in 8 weeks

It asks Centre to do ‘legislative impact study’ on Consumer Protection Act

Updated - August 11, 2021 05:53 pm IST

Published - August 11, 2021 03:21 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

A view of the Supreme Court of India. File

A view of the Supreme Court of India. File

The Supreme Court on Wednesday gave the Centre and the States eight weeks to fill up the vacancies in the consumer disputes redressal commissions.

“Is there some ‘muhurrat’ required for taking steps? States are defeating the purpose for which the consumer protection laws have been made... they have been made for the benefit of people,” Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, heading a Bench, also comprising Justice Hrishikesh Roy, said.

The Bench asked the Centre to conduct a comprehensive “legislative impact study” on the Consumer Protection Act of 2019.

“We want to know the impact of this legislation on litigation,” Justice Kaul said. The court gave the government four weeks to complete the study. When the government complained about the paucity of time, Justice Kaul said, “you make legislations instantly. You rush through so many things, you can rush through this too...”

‘Is it deliberate?’

The court asked if the governments, both at the Centre and in the States, had deliberately kept the vacancies pending to dissuade people from filing complaints.

“You don’t want complaints to be processed, for citizens to get justice? There is no manpower, there is no infrastructure.... People get fed up. You say ‘we will get this thing done’ or ‘we will get that thing done’, and then nothing happens. You seem to have only vacancies and not appointments,” Justice Kaul slammed the governments. The legislative intent behind the Consumer Protection Act was to empower ordinary citizens, he noted.

“However, the ground reality is different. There is little attempt made to translate the legislative intent to administrative infrastructure, facilities, staff, Members in order for the functioning of the consumer disputes commissions,” the Bench stated.

The Centre had dilly-dallied over the appointments of Members in the National Commission.

Ongoing litigation

Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi, for the Centre, said there was an ongoing litigation in the court regarding the tenure of tribunal members. The Centre was waiting for its outcome. Mr. Lekhi also referred to the recent passing of the Tribunal Reforms Bill of 2021, which had the same provisions regarding tenure, etc, as the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021 that was struck down by the court in the recent verdict in the Madras Bar Association case. The to and fro of litigation and legislation had caused “confusion”, delaying appointments.

Justice Kaul addressed the law officer, “Somebody will keep challenging. Now, somebody will challenge this law too... That does not mean you stop appointments. Mr. Lekhi, when you want to do something, there is no ‘confusion’. My question is simple. You have appointed four persons, when are you appointing the remaining three people? You need to have the requisite number of people to deal with the cases filed”.

The court said if it could ask the States to comply with a eight-week deadline, it could “jolly well” also ask the Centre to do the same thing.

Justice Kaul said, “The schedule for the States will equally apply for the Centre”.

The court asked the States to advertise the existing and potential vacancies in two weeks. Those States which have not set up selection committees should do so in two weeks, it ordered. “All vacancies to be filled up by States, Union Territories within maximum eight weeks.”

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