Files Are Waiting, So Are People: Where’s J&K’s Consumer Commission

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Dissolved in last fall along with eight other Commissions of Jammu and Kashmir, State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (SCDRC) has left behind an inventory of hundreds of pending cases. Amid the growing public hopelessness, the lawyers and the judges are awaiting a notification for a new set up.

 By Swati Joshi

EVER since he lost his home to the 2014 devastating deluge, Mohammad Amin, 58, of Srinagar’s Rajbagh locality had been making rounds of the consumer commission, until last summer abruptly ended his weary outings with the fall of the institution.

Like several flood-affected people in Kashmir, Amin was fighting his relief case in the commission.

But with the introduction of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019, New Delhi closed the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (SCDRC) in J&K, and badly jolted Amin and his struggling ilk.

The J&K Reorganization Act came after the abrogation of Article 370 by the Bhartiya Janta Party-led Central government which gave semi-autonomous status to the erstwhile state of J&K. The move supposed to benefit the people has only escalated their woes.

“I was pursuing my case in the SCDRC for many years before last summer sealed its fate,” anxious Amin told Kashmir Observer. “The commission ceased to exist even before pronouncing any order. Where do I go for justice now?”

As a quasi-judicial body meant to ensure the protection of consumer rights, SCDRC—which came under Food, Civil Supplies, and Consumer Affairs Department (FCCD)—was dissolved along with other eight commissions, including State Human Rights Commission, State Information Commission, State Electricity Regulatory Commission, State Commission for Protection of Women and Child Rights, State Commission for Persons with Disabilities, State Vigilance Commission, State Backward Classes Commission, and State Accountability Commission.

“I don’t know what will happen to my case now, as and when the new commission would be established,” Amin continued.

“Commoners like me have no hope now. It’s futile to even count on justice in Kashmir anymore.”

No Way To Go

According to Justice (retd) Sunil Hali, the former SCDRC president, there were around 2,500 pending cases when the commission was closed last October.

“Where are the people supposed to go now, when faced with issues?” Justice Hali told Kashmir Observer.

Established at the State level, SCDRC was presided by a retired judge of the High Court, while two divisional consumer fora were set up in Jammu and Kashmir divisions, headed by in-service district and session Judges.

After closing the SCDRC commission, the case files were handed to FCCD.

The retired justice explained that for currency cases, the losing party had to give money to the winning party which was submitted to the court and after that, the fund was released by the court to the respective party.

“Since eight months now,” Justice Hali said, “many people’s money is stuck as the commission got closed.”

But soon after the implementation of J&K Reorganization Act, 2019, Consumer Protection Act (CPA) 1986 was made applicable in the former state on October 31, 2019.

Under the CPA 1986, a new notification was required to be issued by the government to set up SCDRC, Justice Hali continued.

“But the government has not issued any such notification yet,” the retired judge informed.

However, a notification was issued by the Central government on October 31, 2019, stating that people who were holding appointments under the old Act were deemed to be constituted under the new Act, Hali said.

“Though they’ve preserved the jobs, but the commission is yet to set up.”

Ball in Court Now

Today, the case to revive the SCDRC is being heard by the J&K High Court.

As of January 2020, the High Court sought information about the draft rules made by the Government of India for the functioning and reconstitution of the SCDRC from the J&K Department of Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution.

“But nothing has happened till now,” advocate Sami Yaqoob, a chief litigator in a law firm, told Kashmir Observer. “The government is seeking more time.”

Some draft rules have been framed by the central government but the commission cannot be set up until the government finalizes their rules, stressed Yaqoob.

The proceedings under the CPA are time-bound and the matter is decided in three-six months, said the advocate.

Already in J&K, he said, some cases are pending for the last 15-20 years.

There’re many reasons for this delay, Yaqoob said, one being lack of infrastructure.

“But many times the delay simply happened, as no one was there to preside over the cases,” the advocate said. “At times there was an acute shortage of staff, and sometimes there was no judge.”

However, wounding up the commission which already has so many pending cases would only add to the despair of people, he said.

But not everything is lost, the advocate added.

A positive change, he said, might occur if the commission is set up.

“One good thing is that, unlike the Central Act where along with the President there would be four members, the J&K CPA only comprised of a President and two members,” Yaqoob said.

“Another positive side of the Centre’s CPA is that amendments were made in the Act that allowed the State Commission and Forum to pass interim orders unlike the State Act,” explained the advocate.

Still No Solution in Sight

On being asked about the solution until the commission is set up, Yaqoob told Kashmir Observer that there’s no solution other than setting up a commission immediately.

“Infrastructure in terms of hardware already exists,” he said, adding, “all they have to do is appoint a judge and members to start the commission.”

The clients are in the lurch and they’re just waiting for the commission to set up, opined Yaqoob.

He stressed that it would not take more than a month to set up the commission if the government is interested.

But as the commission remains elusive till date, people like Mohammad Amin, the appellant from Rajbagh, are today feeling a big letdown.

“All these years, I was on my toes fighting the case in the dissolved consumer commission with a hope to win it one day,” Amin said.

“But it seems the abrogation has done more damage to us, than what we thought it would. The sense of disempowerment through deinstitutionalization was never so obvious, as it is now.”

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Swati Joshi

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