SC Upholds Quashing Of Consumer Panel Member’s Appointment

SC Upholds Quashing Of Consumer Panel Member’s Appointment

The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a Himachal Pradesh High Court decision quashing the appointment of a woman member in the Himachal Pradesh State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.

The decision was issued by a bench comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud.

The impugned order had set aside the appointment of Ms. Meena Verma, on a petition filed by Ms. Sunita Sharma, who had contended that the former was appointed by ignoring statutory provisions. Allowing the petition, the Court had directed the Commission to consider Ms. Sharma’s case stating, inter alia, that she is otherwise meritorious and more experienced as compared to Ms. Verma for appointment as a Commission member.

By way of background, the Principal Secretary (Food, Civil Supplies & Consumer Affairs) of the Government of Himachal Pradesh had advertised the vacancy for one post of part-time female Member in April 2016. In the list of selected candidates, Ms. Sharma was placed at serial no. 2 while Ms. Verma was placed at serial no. 3, with the Committee having observed that it had prepared the list on the basis of “performance of candidates”.

Despite this, Ms. Verma was appointed, with the notification not specifying any reasons. The decision was therefore challenged before the High Court, which set it aside. The High Court had opined that the state government had discrimination against Ms. Sharma and that its action was arbitrary, thus violating Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India.

Ms. Verma had now challenged this decision, and the same was supported by State, which submitted that Ms. Verma was appointed on the basis of her “public experience”. The State had further asserted that the appointing authority is free to appoint any candidate recommended for appointment by the Selection Committee and named in the panel. Besides, it had contended that merely because Ms. Sharma was placed at serial no. 2 and is senior in age to the selected candidate, she cannot claim to be appointed as a matter of right.

Considering the submissions, the Apex Court noted that the state government has not framed any rules for the purpose of such selection. It then opined that the matter would have been different had there been a rule to enable the state government to choose a person from the panel.

“In the absence of any Rule or any executive instruction, when the Committee had drawn a panel on the basis of performance and placed the candidates in seriatim on the basis of the said performance, we are disposed to think that the High Court correctly expressed the opinion that the addition of public experience was uncalled for,” it therefore observed, upholding the High Court verdict.