CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION CIVIL APPEAL NO. 831 OF 2023 (@ SLP(C) NO. 19492 OF 2021)
The Secretary Ministry of Consumer Affairs v Dr. Mahindra Bhaskar Limaye & Ors.
DATE OF ORDER:
MARCH 03, 2023
HONOURABLE MR. JUSTICE M. R. Shah
Appellant: The Secretary Ministry of Consumer Affairs
Respondent: Dr. Mahindra Bhaskar Limaye & Ors.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court (hereinafter referred to as ‘Supreme Court’ or ‘the Court’), has said that a person ought to be considered eligible for selection as president and member of state consumer commissions and district consumer associations if they have a bachelor's degree along with at least 10 years of work expertise in consumer affairs, law, public affairs, administration, etc.
Consumer Protection (Qualification for appointment, method of recruitment, procedure of appointment, term of office, resignation and removal of President and Members of State Commission and District Commission) Rules, 2020
- Rule 3 – stipulated that individuals must have a minimum of 20 years of professional experience to be considered for appointment as members of State Consumer Commissions.
- Rule 4 – stipulated that individuals must have a minimum of 20 years of professional experience to be considered for appointment as members of District Consumer Commissions.
- Rule 6 – states procedure of appointment
Consumer Protection Act, 2019 (Act, 2019)
- Section 71 – states the power of the commission with respect to civil court.
- Section 72 – states the power of the commission with respect to JMFC
- The new Consumer Protection Rules 2020, which stipulate a minimum professional expertise of 20 years and 15 years, accordingly, for deciding members of State Consumer Commissions and District Forums, had sections that the Bombay High Court had invalidated.
- The court also invalidated the clause allowing each state's selection group to choose its own process for recommending candidates for appointment to the State Government in order of quality.
- The order is related to the 2020 Rules created by the Central Government under Section 101 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, which pertain to the selection, qualifications, eligibility, and removal of members of the State Consumer Commission and District Consumer Forums operating in India.
- In response to petitions filed by Advocate Dr Mahindra Limaye and Vijaykumar Bhima Dighe, a division bench comprising Justices Sunil Shukre and Anil Kilor has declared Rule 3(2)(b), 4(2)(c), and 6(9) unconstitutional and in violation of Article 14.
- In reaching its decision, the High Court referred to the judgments of the Supreme Court in the Madras Bar Association (MBA-2020 and MBA-2021) cases, which held that advocates with a minimum of 10 years of experience should be considered for appointment as members of tribunals.
- Now the present appeal is against the High Court’s order
What are the minimum requirement or qualification criteria for being qualified to become the member of State consumer commissions and District forums?
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE APPELLANT
- The council argued This Court initially believed that Rule 6(9), which addresses the nomination process, gave the selection group too much flexibility. Additionally, it should have been possible to evaluate applicants' fitness and suitability using objective factors, such as a written test.
- It is claimed that during negotiations between the States, it became clear that the majority of them were opposed to holding written exams.
- Upon the base of another meeting between the UOI and the states certain provisions were provided
- It was noted that a written test for tribunal member nominations as a standard procedure would neither be possible nor acceptable, owing to, among other things.
- It was pointed out by the council that to allow for the issuance of orders required directing the Selection Committee's discretion, which might be deemed to be added below Rule 6(9) of the Rules, 2020.
- In case of handicap people the written test may not be feasible and efficient method for selection process.
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE RESPONDENT
- It has been pointed out that the eligibility criteria should be stringent for the appointment of the Consumer State commission and District Commission, because then there might be chances of having incompetent candidates and them adjudicating the consumer dispute will be inadequate.
- According to Rule 6(9), the selection group is granted unrestricted arbitrary powers to choose how to go about selecting the president and members of the State and District Commission. As a consequence, such an unchecked delegation of authority will produce undesirable outcomes.
- It is contented that Rule 3(2)(b) and rule 4(2)(c) are also arbitrary in nature and does violate article 14 of the Indian Constitution.
- In 272nd law commission report it was mentioned that members of the newly established tribunals must meet the same requirements as High Court and District Court justices. The Report also suggested that the nominations be made consistently.
- In the UPCPBA case, the model guidelines were authorized by the court and adopted by all parties.
- In accordance with the authority granted by the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act of 1986, the State of Maharashtra also adopted and authorized the model regulations on May 24, 2019.
- In the State of Maharashtra, the Model Rules of 2012 had previously been in effect under Section 30 of the Consumer Protection Act of 1986. Potential candidates/applicants for the position of President and Members of District Consumer Forum were already required to take a written test worth 100 points under Rule 10 of the aforementioned regulations.
- This Court has authorized the standard model rules for employment, pay, service conditions, etc., for the efficient resolution of consumer complaints under the Act, 1986.
- While performing the quasi- judicial function it is mandatory to go with the procedure and interview to test the competency of the candidate so that there is no undeserving result being declared.
- Therefore the council contends that there is no error being committed by the High Court with respect to the enforcement of rules 3, 4, 9 of Rules 2020 as obstructive, arbitrary and in violation of Article 14 of Indian Constitution.
ANALYSIS BY THE COURT:
- The Court supported the Bombay High Court's decision to invalidate the rules established by the Central Government in accordance with section 101 of the Consumer Protection Act of 2019. This part eliminated the need for a written exam and set a minimal professional experience standard of 20 years and 15 years for members of the State consumer commissions and District forums, respectively.
- The court observed that Rule 6(9) lacks openness and gives the Selection Committee unrestrained authority. The Bench acknowledged that the Union Government had attempted to overturn Apex Court rulings, involving the one in the Madras Bar Association case, which was unlawful.
- The Supreme Court has directed that until amendments are made to the Consumer Protection Act, in order to provide complete justice under Article 142, individuals who possess a Bachelor's degree from a recognized university, and have special knowledge and professional experience of at least 10 years in areas such as consumer affairs, law, public affairs, and administration, will be deemed qualified for appointment as President and members of State and District Commissions. This is in line with the Supreme Court's rulings in the Madras Bar Association cases.
- The Supreme Court has further directed that the appointment process for the President and members of State and District Commissions shall be based on the performance in two papers, with a minimum qualifying mark of 50% in each paper. Additionally, there must be a viva examination, with a weightage of 50 marks for each paper, as part of the appointment process.
In the above case the Supreme Court has upheld a judgment by the Bombay High Court which invalidated provisions of the Consumer Protection Rules that prevented individuals with 10 years of professional experience from being appointed to State Consumer Commissions and District Consumer Forums. The Court ruled that appointments to these positions must be made on the basis of performance in a written test consisting of two papers.
The court also pointed out that the Selection Committee is granted discretionary and unrestricted authority under Rule 6(9) to decide how to conduct itself and to suggest applicants for appointments as presidents and members of the State and District Commission.
The selection methods are not transparent. It stated that appointments of those who are unfit and unworthy may defeat the Act's goals.
Here the respondent made the contention that The scheme hasn't changed significantly in terms of how customer complaints are resolved. In light of this, consumer commissioners are quasi-judicial bodies with the authority to carry out judicial duties under both civil and penal law.
When the Central Government frames the Rules, 2020 in accordance with its authority under Section 101 of the Act, 2019, it provides that the contested Rules 3(2)(b), 4(2)(c), and 6(9) made matters worse compared to the prevailing, previous to the Rules, 2020
Therefore it was concluded that the members of the State and District Consumer Commissions as well as the President may only be appointed if they have practiced law for at least ten years
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