The Supreme Court on Friday criticised the government over its failure to fill vacancies in state and district-level bodies resolving consumer disputes, saying it was "unfortunate" that it had to be called upon to look into such a matter. This is "not a happy situation", the country's top court said.
"If the government does not want these tribunals, then abolish the (Tribunal Reforms) Act... citizens are suffering. These (consumer dispute commissions) are places of remedy and daily life is affected. We are stretching our jurisdiction to see that vacancies are filled," the court said.
A two-member bench of Justices SK Kaul and MM Sundresh were hearing the matter.
On August 11 the court - which has taken moto cognisance of the issue - said vacancies in Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions in all states and UTs should be filled within eight weeks.
In today's hearing senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan had argued that the government introduced the Act in violation of an earlier Supreme Court judgment. However, ASG Aman Lekhi, appearing for the government, submitted the Act was, in fact, in consonance with that judgment.
The court, however, was not convinced.
"It seems the bench (the court) says something (but) you do something else... with some kind of embargo is being created and citizens suffering. These (consumer forums) are places of remedy and daily life is affected," the court responded.
In the previous hearing too, the court had said: "Don't dash hopes of people. You raise hopes... that they will get redressal but then you don't fulfil. If you are asking states to fill vacancies, then you need to too. You need to have the requisite number of people to deal with cases."
The court also slammed the state governments of Maharashtra, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, and Jharkhand in connection with this matter.
Appointments to tribunals, or quasi-judicial bodies across the country, has been a contentious issue since the introduction of the Tribunal Reforms Act earlier this year.
The Act revives an ordinance struck down by the court after it was declared unconstitutional.
It abolishes nine key bodies and, its critics argue, poses a serious threat to judicial independence by giving the government power over appointments, service conditions and salaries.
The court has, at least twice since, expressed its displeasure over the Act, pointing out the government was weakening tribunals by delaying appointments.
Last month, while dealing with the vacancies in law tribunals, including the National Company Law Tribunal, Chief Justice NV Ramana said: "we feel the government has no respect for this court".
The court then told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta (who was appearing in that matter) that the government had four options, including facing contempt of court charges.
Days later the government issued a notification regarding rules for appointments to 12 tribunals.