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The Supreme Court is unhappy with governments over the inordinate delay in appointments to consumer dispute redressal commissions. Despite its August 11 order to fill vacancies in all such commissions in eight weeks, the situation remains unchanged, forcing the apex court to suggest switching over to a new system of permanent consumer courts, unlike the commissions where appointments are for a fixed period. The court also vented its ire over a large number of vacancies in tribunals, saying that the Centre should abolish them if it isn’t keen on their continuation.

The Consumer Protection Act was originally enacted in 1986 to provide for better protection of the interests of consumers and for the purpose of making a provision for the establishment of consumer protection councils and other authorities for the settlement of consumer disputes. However, the disposal of consumer cases has not been fast due to various constraints.

. Also, the post-liberalisation Indian market has witnessed drastic changes in terms of products and services and the players offering them.
. The emergence of global supply chains, rise in international trade and rapid development of e-commerce have led to new delivery systems.
. While consumers have got multiple options, they have been rendered vulnerable to new forms of unfair and unethical trade and business practices such as misleading advertisements, tele-marketing etc.
. Parliament repealed and re-enact the Consumer Protection Act in 2019 to provide appropriate and swift interventions to protect consumers from such vulnerabilities. However, a large number of posts in consumer commissions remain vacant, rendering the law meaningless to a large extent.

Qualifications, selection criterion, method of recruitment, security of tenure, remuneration and conditions of service are key determinants of independent functioning of judicial/quasi-judicial bodies.

A close look at the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021, and the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, makes it clear that there is an attempt to assert executive dominance in appointments to the discomfort of the judiciary.

While the judiciary and the government indulge in a slugfest over who controls appointments to tribunals and consumer commissions, the consumers continue to suffer. This unpleasant situation must end at the earliest.

(GS Paper- 2/ Polity/ Tribunals)

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