SUPREME COURT on Wednesday expressed displeasure over delay in filling up vacancies in the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions, and directed the Centre and states to complete the process within eight weeks.
A bench of Justices S K Kaul and Hrishikesh Roy also asked the Centre whether it had conducted a legislative impact study prior to the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 and gave it four weeks time to complete this and submit a report to the court.
The bench was hearing a suo motu case on inaction in appointing president and members/staff of Districts and State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and inadequate infrastructure across India.
Appearing for the Centre, Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi said he will try to persuade the concerned authorities to fill up the vacancies fast and added that the terms of appointment will be as per the recently passed law Tribunal Reforms Act, 2021.
The bench, however, did not appear convinced and reminded that he had said even earlier that all vacancies at the National Commission will be filled up but that has not happened. “Don’t raise hopes when you cannot fulfil the aspirations. Consumers are getting no redressal of their grievances due to cases piling up owing to the vacancies at the forum,” said the bench.
The bench also conveyed its unhappiness on the lack of a legislative impact study, saying “nothing unfortunately was done before the 2019 Act was introduced”. It said that an affidavit filed by the Centre only referred to a post-facto exercise after the Act had come into force and that too only in respect of increase in pecuniary jurisdiction.
“At least now a comprehensive legislative impact study should be done,” it said, and directed that the exercise be completed and the report placed before it within four weeks.
Lekhi said there is already a pre-legislative consultation policy, which provides for consultations with the stakeholders. He said the 2019 Act is only an amendment of the 2015 Bill, which was dealt with by the standing committee and no state had objected to it.
But the bench said a legislative impact study is necessary if a new avatar of an Act is brought into force. “The changes you propose to make, what impact would it have on the litigation, what is the kind of manpower required, what is the infrastructure required.”
Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, who is assisting the court as amicus curiae, said whatever was done was only after the Act was brought into force.
The bench told ASG Lekhi, “This is the greatest irony that in legislation, you never do a study…. I have full sympathy for you, Mr ASG. Drawing out information from the government is a very difficult task. What you should have done, you have not done. But now you say you have written to the state governments for the response. We will record that it was not done and now you have done so post the Act.”
The bench also pulled up state governments for not filing status report and affidavits regarding vacancies in consumer forums on time and warned that it will summon the chief secretaries of the respective states.