SC prolongs suspension of decision invalidating consumer Fora for selection process in Maharashtra

SC prolongs suspension of decision invalidating consumer Fora for selection process in Maharashtra

The Supreme Court has extended the suspension of the Bombay High Court's ruling, which invalidated the Maharashtra government's selection process for the state and district consumer fora. On November 10, a bench led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, along with Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, ordered the continuation of the interim stay granted by the High Court until November 24.

The court also issued a notice on a petition filed by Ganeshkumar Rajeshwarrao Selukar and others challenging the High Court's decision on October 20, 2023. The hearing for this petition is scheduled for November 24.

The state government made appointments on October 5, 2023, after the High Court reserved judgment on September 01, 2023, but before officially pronouncing it on October 20, 2023. To prevent the potential removal of the current appointees due to the High Court's decision, the bench instructed that the interim stay, initially granted by the High Court, would continue until November 24, 2023.

The petitioner's advocate, Nishant R Katneshwarkar, and Uday Warunjikar, representing the intervenor state, have informed that the State of Maharashtra has filed a Special Leave Petition challenging the High Court's judgment. This petition is expected to be scheduled for a hearing after the Diwali recess of the court.

The High Court invalidated the state government's selection process, citing its previous directions under Article 142 of the Constitution in a judgment on March 3, 2023. These directions related to the conduct of examinations for selecting members of the State Commission and District Fora while awaiting the finalization of the Rules. The court considered this a primary reason for setting aside the selection process.

The Rules for the selection process were formulated by the central government on September 21, 2023.

According to the High Court's judgment, the state government was not allowed to increase the number of questions in Paper-II, which conflicted with the court's directions under Article 142 of the Constitution. The High Court disagreed with the state government's decision to require one essay and one case study to be answered in Marathi, considering it contrary to the court's directions.

A counsel representing the original petitioner argued that the state government made an error by reducing the total marks for Paper-I from 100 to 90, as directed by the court under Article 142. The counsel suggested that if there were errors, the appropriate action should have been proportional allocation of marks to the remaining questions.

The High Court also ruled on the composition of the Selection Committee, noting that it did not adhere to the court's judgments. Specifically, it observed that the committee included only one nominee of the Chief Justice and two representatives of the state government, which was deemed non-compliant with the court's directives.

The court considered two distinctive features in the selection process for consumer fora, differentiating it from other judgments, such as 'Rojer Mathew Vs South Indian Bank Limited & Ors' (2020), 'Madras Bar Association (MBA III) Vs Union of India & Anr' (2021), and 'Madras Bar Association (MBA IV) Vs Union of India & Anr' (2021). These features are:

(i) the requirement for candidates to clear a written examination before the interview stage and

(ii) the absence of state interest in the outcome of litigation before consumer fora, in contrast to other tribunals where the state is typically a contesting party with a vested interest in the litigation.

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