SC makes exception on written exam for appointing state consumer chiefs | Education - Hindustan Times
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SC makes exception on written exam for appointing state consumer chiefs

ByAbraham Thomas
Mar 08, 2024 12:01 PM IST

SC has exempted former high court judges from taking a mandatory test for appointment as head of state consumer commissions.

The Supreme Court on Thursday exempted former high court judges from taking a mandatory test for appointment as head of state consumer commissions and sought suggestions from the Centre on making the selection procedure for members of district and state consumer commissions “objective and fair” as it noted that removing the examination criteria could give “backdoor entry” to ineligible persons and vest “unbridled discretion” in the hands of the state.

SC makes exception on written exam for appointing state consumer chiefs
SC makes exception on written exam for appointing state consumer chiefs

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud passed the order while considering a batch of appeals challenging a notification brought by the Centre in September 2023 making it mandatory for heads and members of state and district consumer forums to clear a written exam on a variety of topics, including general knowledge. The notification was issued pursuant to a Supreme Court judgment of March 3, 2023 mandating for such test. However, last month, the top court suggested the Centre to consider amending the regulation as the examination proved to be a hurdle in the filling up vacant posts.

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The Centre had last week filed an application expressing its willingness to amend the rules as the examination was neither “feasible” nor “desirable”. It recommended that Presidents of state and district consumer commissions should be exempted from taking the examination and suggested broadening the selection committee headed by chief justice of the respective high court in selecting heads and members of district and state consumer forums. Under the existing rules, a former high court judge is eligible to be president of state consumer forums.

The CJI observed, “This is an impossible condition as you cannot have a person to work as president of state commissions. Also, it is not possible asking a former high court judge to take the examination. It is like asking a former Supreme Court judge to take a test on environment before being appointed as president of national green tribunal.”

On district forum presidents, who can be former district judges or persons qualified to be district judges, the Court said,

“Not having a selection examination will be a backdoor entry for any lawyer. Besides, there is a danger of leaving it to states as there will be unbridled discretion,” said the bench, also comprising justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra.

Further, the bench, said, “In so far as appointment to President of state consumer commissions are concerned, we direct that the requirement of holding written examination and viva voce shall be relaxed for the present.” It clarified that such appointments will be in consultation and concurrence of chief justice of the respective high court.

On the Centre’s proposal to have the selection committee comprising high court CJ or his/her nominee, president of state consumer commission along with consumer affairs secretary who wil not have voting right in the selection, the bench proposed adding law secretary of the respective state to the committee.

It said, “We are of the view that selection procedure is objective and transparent. Moreover the selection committee should be brought in conformity with our earlier directions.” The Court was referring to the judgments rendered by the top court which upheld primacy of judiciary in making appointments to judicial and quasi-judicial tribunals.

Additional solicitor general (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati agreed to come back with concrete proposals on how the amendments to the Rules can be made to ensure objectivity and transparency in selection of heads of district consumer forum and members of both state and district consumer commissions.

Before filing its application in Court, the Centre consulted state governments which said, “Serious difficulties are being faced in finding suitable candidates for the post of president in state and district commissions.” The states further submitted, “The experience of holding a written examination with standard syllabus and as a uniform policy across the country is neither feasible nor desirable.”

The March 3 judgment by the top court had said, " We direct under Article 142 of the Constitution of India that for appointment of president and members of the state commission and district commission, the appointment shall be made on the basis of performance in written test consisting of two papers.” Each paper was to be of 100 marks with the first paper being on general knowledge, current affairs, knowledge of Constitution and consumer laws while the second paper being descriptive, requiring an essay and case study based on consumer case.

The present appeals heard by the Court were filed by the Centre and Maharashtra government to an order passed by the Bombay high court on October 20, 2023 striking down crucial provisions of the Consumer Protection (Qualification for appointment, method of recruitment, procedure of appointment, term of office, resignation and removal of the President and members of the State Commission and District Commission) Rules, 2023 introducing the mandatory test in light of the March 2023 ruling.

The Bombay HC had passed orders on a petition filed by one Mahendra Bhaskar Limaye. He was also the petitioner on whose plea the earlier SC judgment in March was passed. The HC judgment knocked down the rule providing for selection committee as it held that judiciary was not given a greater say in selection. As regards the rule on written test, the HC found that the requirement and syllabus prescribed by the state government was not fully in consonance with the top court judgment.

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