Expressing displeasure over delay in appointments in the Districts and State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, the Supreme Court on Friday said if the government does not want the tribunals then it should abolish the Consumer Protection Act.
A bench comprising Justices S K Kaul and M M Sundresh said it is unfortunate that the top court is being called upon to examine and see that vacancies in tribunals are filled up.
“If the government does not want the tribunals then abolish the act… We are stretching our jurisdiction to see the vacancies are filled in. Normally we should not spend time on this and the posts should be filled. Unfortunately, the judiciary is called upon to see that these posts are manned. This is not a very happy situation,” the bench said.
The top court was hearing a suo motu case on the inaction of the governments in appointing president and members/staff of Districts and State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and inadequate infrastructure across India.
The apex court in its order directed that the process of filling up vacancies in the State Consumer Commissions as per its earlier directions must not be impeded by the judgement of the Bombay High Court which had quashed certain Consumer Protection Rules.
As the hearing commenced, senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appointed as amicus curiae in the case, apprised the court about judgement passed by the Bombay High Court at Nagpur Bench quashing certain Consumer Protection Rules.
He said the Centre introduced the Tribunal Reforms Act in violation of the apex court judgement in the Madras Bar Association case.
Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi, appearing for the Centre, said the government is in the process of filing an appeal against the Bombay high court order which quashed certain provisions of Consumer Protection Rules. He told the bench that the Tribunal Reforms Act introduced by the Centre was not in contravention rather it was in consonance with the Madras Bar Association judgement of the apex court.
The top court, however, remarked, “It seems that the bench says something and you do something else and some kind of embargo is being created and in this process, the citizens of the country are suffering. “These are places for remedy like consumer forums. These are small issues that people deal with and these are not high stake matters. The very purpose of setting up these tribunals to provide consumer remedy is not being met,” the bench remarked.
The ASG submitted that there is no breach of the judgement of the top court and principles of Madras Bar have been duly incorporated. “The government is not making this an ego issue here in the supreme court or dragging its feet regarding the appointments,” he said.
The top court, however, said We don’t want to comment but this does not paint a happy picture.” The apex court also directed the states to submit data in a prescribed form within one week failing which the concerned secretary has to remain present before it. As the hearing ended, Justice Sundresh said there is a need to look at the problem from a different perspective and permanent consumer courts should replace consumer commissions which are manned by retired judicial officers on an ad-hoc basis.
“We need to have a permanent structure like the permanent court. The time has come for us to have a permanent court for consumer court and have judges as we select it for district and higher judiciary. “We need to look at it from a different perspective. We have to rethink if we go on with an ad hoc continuance of members for 5 years etc, Justice Sundresh said. The judge said, “What is the point of having a retired judicial officer? “What is the motivation level for him and what will be his mindset? How do you fix accountability? Is it required for the development of the institution,” the judge said.
The top court had in January said that Consumer rights are “important rights” and non-manning of posts and inadequate infrastructure in the district and state consumer commissions across the country would deprive the citizens of redressal of their grievances. The top court had appointed senior advocate Gopal Shankaranarayan and lawyer Aaditya Narain as amicus curiae to assist it in the matter.