Consumer Forums are in rotten state, Supreme Court calls for a complete overhaul

There is political and bureaucratic interference in appointments.

Non-judicial members join office only to sign on orders drafted by the presiding officer.

Selection of persons as presiding officers and as members of the fora lacks transparency.

The post of president and members of the State Consumer Commission is vacant from a year.

Above mentioned points is only a fraction of issues that plague the Consumer Forums/Courts in most states of India. These are the findings of a Supreme Court appointed Committee presided over by Mr. Justice Arijit Pasayat, a former judge to assess the state of Consumer Forums across the country.

The findings point to the rotten state of Consumer Courts across the country where thousand of people queue up for early redressal of their grievances. Consumer forums are not only handling small issues, they have now been flooded with cases worth hundreds of crores from real estate sector. While committee’s findings praise the National Commission (NCDRC), they raise a serious question on quality of justice being rendered by many of the states and district level consumer forums.

Case background

On 14 January 2016, The Supreme Court constituted a Committee presided over by Mr. Justice Arijit Pasayat, a former judge of SC, to examine some of the following issues:

the infrastructural requirements of the State Commissions, deficiencies in infrastructure and remedial measures;

vacancies of members at the national, state and district level;

the need for additional Benches at the national, state and district level;

conditions of eligibility for appointment of non-judicial members etc

This committee 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 has also analyzed the prevailing position at the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, as well as the State Commission in New Delhi.

The Findings

The Committee has observed that the fora constituted under the enactment do not function as effectively as expected due to a poor organizational setup, grossly inadequate infrastructure, the 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 coram. Orders are not enforced like other orders passed by the civil courts. The state governments have failed to respond to the suggestions of the Committee for streamlining the state of affairs.

Bureaucratic and political influence in selection process

The Committee found that relatives of politicians, bureaucrats, and judicial fraternity have been selected. The selection of persons as presiding officers and as members of the fora lacks transparency without fixed criteria for selection.

Pathetic state of infrastructure

The Committee, during its visits to states, has found that there are no proper court-rooms with lights and fans, chairs and tables. The condition of Chambers of the Presiding Members is pathetic. They do not have adequate or trained staff. They do not have stenographers for taking dictations. At some Consumer Fora, there are no peons to retrieve the files from the Record Room. The Record-Rooms are, also, either too small and have no almirah, shelves or compactors to keep the files. The files are kept in open and get misplaced or eaten by termites.

Unskilled/Unqualified staff

The quality of presiding members, especially of non-judicial members at the state and district levels is poor. One of the reasons is that the remuneration which is being paid to non-judicial members of consumer fora varies from state to state and is too meager to attract qualified talent.

Shortage of Staff in NCDRC

There are 118 sanctioned posts as against a requirement of 322 while pendency of cases as on 30 September 2016 is 11,379;

Few personnel work on a regular basis while others who are inducted on contract cannot be entrusted with work of a regular nature;

Remarks with regard to Judges in NCRDC

The Committee has noted that while the salary and allowances of the President of the National Commission are equivalent to those of a Judge of the Supreme Court, the conditions of service of members of the National Commission are not at par with those of the sitting judges of the High Court. The National Commission hears appeals and revisions against orders of the State Commissions, whose Presidents are treated at par with judges of the High Court. An anomalous situation prevails where members of a higher forum (the National Commission) have conditions of service inferior to those applicable to members of a forum lower in the hierarchy. The Committee has proposed that the members of the National Commission should get the same salaries, allowances, and conditions of services as are available to sitting judges of the High Court.

The National Commission hears appeals and revisions against orders of the State Commissions, whose Presidents are treated at par with judges of the High Court. An anomalous situation prevails where members of a higher forum (the National Commission) have conditions of service inferior to those applicable to members of a forum lower in the hierarchy. The Committee has proposed that the members of the National Commission should get the same salaries, allowances, and conditions of services as are available to sitting judges of the High Court.

Directions from the Supreme Court

While accepting most of the recommendations of the committee, the Supreme Court clarified on the powers of the NCDRC and the presidents of state commissions. The SC made following directions in the matter:

Model Rules for state governments

The Union Government shall for the purpose of ensuring uniformity in the exercise of the rule making power under Section 10(3) and Section 16(2) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 frame model rules for adoption by the state governments. The model rules shall be framed within four months and shall be submitted to this Court for its approval;

Rules for appointments to various fora

model rules prescribing objective norms for appointment of members respectively of the District fora, State Commissions, and National Commission;

Selection process and allowances

The model rules should have due regard to the formulation of objective norms for the assessment of the ability, knowledge, and experience required to be possessed by the members of the respective fora in the domain areas referred to in the statutory provisions mentioned above. The model rules shall provide for the payment of salary, allowances and for the conditions of service of the members of the consumer fora commensurate with the nature of adjudicatory duties and the need to attract suitable talent to the adjudicating bodies. These rules shall be finalized upon due consultation with the President of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, within the period stipulated above;

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.