New Delhi: Over 35 years after a special law to deal with consumer complaints was notified, the adjudicating panels envisaged under the legal framework to decide claim applications still remain unequipped when it comes to infrastructure and manpower needs.
These are the findings of senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, who prepared the report on the directions of the Supreme Court, which is hearing a suo motu case initiated in February this year on the large number of vacancies in the consumer bodies. Sankaranarayanan is assisting the bench as an amicus curiae in the matter.
The report, which contains state-wise break-up of the data, was submitted to the court this month.
The report, accessed by ThePrint, says that many district and state consumer redressal bodies do not have storage rooms to preserve case files, chambers for members appointed to hear complaints, in some instances courtrooms, and even something as basic as washrooms.
Moreover, these panels are still understaffed, despite the top court’s directive to states and Union territories to fill up them before October-end.
Under the Consumer Protection Act,1986, a three-tier grievance redressal mechanism — district, state and national level — is designed to provide less expensive and speedy resolution in cases of consumer dispute. However, inadequate infrastructure facilities and vacancies in the commission have defeated the object of the law, the report says.
The situation continues to be dire despite recommendations in the past to rectify them, the report adds.
Two high-level panels — Bagla Committee in 2000 and the Justice Arijit Pasayat Committee in 2016 — had made extensive suggestions to improve the working conditions of the commissions and yet the lacunae remain unattended, it says.
With respect to infrastructure in state and district consumer commissions, the report urges the court to direct states to assess the on-ground requirements within two months and rectify the lacunae on an urgent basis.
Except Rajasthan, Karnataka, Uttarakhand and Andhra Pradesh, all states reported having a dedicated and permanent building for the state-level consumer commission.
However, the report says, all have sought more space to upgrade the existing infrastructure. Only Chandigarh, Manipur, Tamil Nadu and Tripura have set up mediation rooms in their state consumer commission, in accordance with the modified Consumer Protection Act, 2019.
Many states reported not building a washroom for litigants, while Delhi, Maharashtra and Nagaland admitted not having washrooms for the staff employed with the state consumer bodies.
Rajasthan, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya, Lakshadweep, Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, Arunachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Andaman and Nicobar Islands don’t have the facility of a storage room, the report says.
The storage or record room is necessitated due to the changes brought in the law in 2020 under which the commission can direct the complainant or the respondent to produce case property for physical examination, which may require the panel to keep it in its custody.
Data related to district commission indicates many consumer dispute redressal panels are lacking in adequate space due to which they are unable to provide separate chambers for its existing members or have a dedicated place for filing counters.
Many district commissions also don’t have washroom facilities for litigants, lack a computer facility for its staff, have no earmarked space as storage or record room, and haven’t developed portals to update judgments or case status.
Vacancies not filled despite SC’s direction
According to the report, there is little progress on filling up the vacancies in the commissions despite the Supreme Court’s direction.
In August, the top court had fixed an eight-week deadline for states to make appointments on all vacant posts, after the amicus furnished a report on the lack of human resources in district consumer commissions and state consumer panels.
Over 500 out of 990 posts were vacant in district consumer panels and 89 more are expected to fall vacant in the next six months, the August report had said. As for state consumer commissions, only four of 28 states and just one Union territory out of eight are working at full strength, it had submitted.
According to the latest report, there is hardly any compliance with the SC’s August direction. Only seven states/UTs — Assam, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Meghalaya, Punjab, Tripura and Uttar Pradesh — have partially filled the vacancies.
Twenty-three states and Union territories have not filled up any vacancy, the report further says, adding that most of the states have promised to finish the process of making all appointments by June 2022.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)