A Supreme Court Bench of Justice MR Shah and Justice MM Sundresh has upheld a Judgment passed by the Bombay High Court and confirmed that persons possessing a bachelor's degree and professional experience of at least ten years in consumer affairs, public affairs, law, administration, etc. shall be qualified for appointment as President and members of State Consumer Commissions and District Forums.

This Supreme Court decision has paved the way for lawyers with at least 10 years of experience to be eligible for appointments to the consumer commissions.

AG R Venkataramani appeared for the Appellants, while Counsel Dr Uday Prakash Warnjikar and Counsel Dr Tushar Mandelekar appeared for the Respondents.

In this case, appeals were preferred before the Supreme Court by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Union of India and State of Maharashtra against an order of the Division Bench of the High Court, by which the High Court struck down and declared Rule 3(2)(b), Rule 4(2)(c) and Rule 6(9) of the 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 as arbitrary, unreasonable and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

The Apex Court referred to the decisions of the Court in the cases of State of Uttar Pradesh and Others Vs. All Uttar Pradesh Consumer Protection Bar Association and Madras Bar Association Vs. Union of India & Anr., to observe that "the High Court in the impugned judgment and order has rightly observed and held that Rule 3(2)(b), Rule 4(2)(c) and Rule 6(9) of the Rules, 2020 which are contrary to the decisions of this Court in the cases of UPCPBA (supra) and the Madras Bar Association (supra) are unconstitutional and arbitrary."

In similar context, the Court was of the considered view that "Rule 6(9) lacks transparency and it confers uncontrolled discretion and excessive power to the Selection Committee. Under Rule 6(9), the Selection Committee is empowered with the uncontrolled discretionary power to determine its procedure to recommend candidates to be appointed as President and Members of the State and District Commission. The transparency and selection criteria are absent under Rule 6(9). In absence of transparency in the matter of appointments of President and Members and in absence of any criteria on merits the undeserving and unqualified persons may get appointment which may frustrate the object and purpose of the Consumer Protection Act. It cannot be disputed that the Commissions are empowered with the powers of court and are quasijudicial authorities and empowered to discharge judicial powers with the adequate powers of the court including civil and criminal. Therefore, the standards expected from the members of the tribunal should be as nearly as possible as applicable to the appointment of judges exercising such powers."

With regard to Rule 3(2)(b) and Rule 4(2)(c), the Court held that "the High Court has rightly quashed the said provisions which provided for having a minimum 20 years’ experience for appointment as a Member in State Commission under Rule 3(2)(b) and having a minimum 15 years’ experience for appointment as a Member in District Commission under Rule 4(2)(c)."

In that context, it was observed that "under provision 4(1) of Rules, 2020, a person who is eligible to be appointed as a district judge (having minimum experience of 7 years) is qualified to be appointed as President of the District Commission but in order to be appointed as a Member, Section 4(2)(c) mandates a minimum experience of 15 years which is rightly held to be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. Similarly providing 20 years’ experience under Rule 3(2)(b) also rightly held to be arbitrary and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. It is required to be noted that under Section 3(2)(b), a presiding officer of a Court having experience of 10 years is eligible for becoming President of the State Commission. Even under Section 3(1) a judge of the High Court, present or former, shall be qualified for appointment of the President. As per Article 233 of the Constitution, a lawyer needs to have only 7 years of practice as an advocate in High Court. Under the circumstances to provide 20 years’ experience under Rule 3(2)(b) is rightly held to be unconstitutional, arbitrary and violative of the Article 14 of the Constitution of India."

Consequently, the Court directed the Central Government and the concerned State Governments to amend the Rules.

Cause Title: The Secretary Ministry of Consumer Affairs v. Dr Mahindra Bhaskar Limaye & Ors.

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