Consumer Disputes : Supreme Court Directs States To Set Up Mediation Cells & E-Filing Systems For District & State Commissions
The Supreme Court, on Tuesday, directed all State Governments to set up mediation cells and e-filing systems for the District and State Consumer Dispute Redressal Forums. "Mediation is an important, if not at times a better method of resolution of disputes and thus all States are mandated to set up the mediation cells… [...] Similarly a direction is made for the e-filing system...
The Supreme Court, on Tuesday, directed all State Governments to set up mediation cells and e-filing systems for the District and State Consumer Dispute Redressal Forums.
"Mediation is an important, if not at times a better method of resolution of disputes and thus all States are mandated to set up the mediation cells…
Similarly a direction is made for the e-filing system to be made operational also within the aforesaid time period."
A Bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M.M. Sundresh passed the directions in a public interest litigation challenging the inaction of the Governments in appointing President, Members and Staff of District and State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commissions across the country.
Mediation Cells and E-filing systems
Amicus Curiae, Mr. Gopal Sankaranarayanan pointed out that in the report submitted by him in Nov, 2021 infrastructural deficiencies were flagged for respective states. He requested if the Bench could direct the State Governments to respond how they have utilised funds towards those deficiencies.
The Bench directed the State Nodal Officer to provide the requisite information to the Central Nodal Officer who can thereafter pass it on to the Amicus.
Mr. Sankaranarayanan stated that as suggested by the Central Nodal Officer, mediation cells can be established as provided in Section 74 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. Considering the fact that some States do not have mediation cells, he recommended if direction can be passed by the Bench in this regard.
Further, it was highlighted that e-filing is not being implemented in many of the States. He asked the Bench to direct State Governments to submit a status report. He further stated -
"Specifically the State of Kerala, apparently is being a little obdurate about not implementing. I am not sure why."
The Counsel for the State of Kerala assured the Bench that the needful would be done.
Appointment in National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission
Additional Solicitor General, Mr. Balbir Singh, informed the Bench that the appointment process for the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission is underway and would be completed shortly.
Vacancies in the State and Districts Commissions
The Amicus submitted from his status report that 8 States had completed its appointment process. It was pointed out, the remaining states had partially filled up vacancies and stated reasons for not being able to complete the process, as under -
- a.Lack of suitable candidate;
- b. In smaller States, there is an absence of qualified persons.
- c. Pay and allowance is not adequate.
It was observed that in some smaller states, the cases being limited there is no need to fill the vacancies for judicial and administrative staff.
The Bench noted that in some states, like Bihar, though partial appointments have been made, the vacancies are very large. The Counsel for the State of Bihar, informed that non-availability of candidates; adverse reports on selected candidates are some of the impediments in filling up the vacancies.
Creation of posts of Registrar/Joint Registrar
Mr. Sankaranarayanan pointed out that some States have sought exemption from creating posts of Registrar and Joint Registrar given the low pendency of cases. The Bench asked the States requesting for exemption to furnish requisite data pertaining to pendency to the Amicus so that he can independently analyse the same. It stated that if the Amicus is convinced that post has to be created, the State Government would be mandated to do so in a month's time.
The Bench noted that all States are required to sanction posts until and unless exemption is granted. It directed the process of sanction to be completed within a period of one month, failing which the nominated Secretary is required to be present before the Court.
The States that have not provided the information pertaining to creation of posts were asked to do so within 15 days.
Utilisation Certificate Not Issued
The Bench noted that for construction of buildings for the State and District Commissions funds were provided in a 50:50. For non-building assets Rs 25 lakhs is issued for each State Commission and Rs. 10 lakhs is to be issued to each District Commission for a period of five years. It observed that there was a delay in submission of Utilisation Certificates (UCs). The Central Nodal officer appearing in person before the Court apprised it that the almost all the States are doing the needful. The Bench highlighted West Bengal, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh as the three states which have high percentage of pending UCs. It urged the State Governments to submit the UCs -
"We have once again emphasized on the States the importance of submitting UCs so that the funds are made available and utilized by the State Government."
The matter is to be next listed on 26.07.2022.
Case Title: In Re: Inaction of the Government In Appointing President And Members/Staff of Districts And State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission And Inadequate Infrastructure Across India v. Union of India And Ors. SMWP(C) No. 2 of 2021
Citation : 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 371