More than a year has passed after the enactment and enforcement of J&K Reorganization Act 2019, whereby various changes were made in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, including the Consumer's Grievance Redressal Forums viz. District Consumer Forum and State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission, customarily called as Consumer Courts were made non-functional due to reorganization and conversion of State into Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir. But till date no concrete steps are taken by the Govt. at Union Territory or Central level to establish Consumer Courts in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, as a result the public of J&K is suffering immeasurably.
After the enforcement of J&K Reorganization Act 2019, the earlier state's Consumer Protection Act 1987 ceased to be in operation and the Central Consumer Protection Act 2019 has been made applicable to the Union Territory; thus, new Consumer Courts need to be established, in as much as, orders to the extent of appointing the President and Members for the same are required to be notified, so that the Consumer Courts i.e., Forum and Commission can be made functional at District and UT level, but till date the govt. is sitting over the issue. As such, keeping in view the contemporary condition of the Consumers in Jammu and Kashmir, it won't be wrong to say that, there is a law on the subject, but no place to seek remedy.
Notwithstanding, a PIL is sub-judice before the Hon'ble High Court of J&K over the issue, in which time and again the Hon'ble Court has expressed serious concern in regard to the same, but the Govt. rather than establishing the consumer courts at an earliest, is coming up with routine status reports in regard to steps taken till date. This shows the insensitivity and callous attitude of the Govt. over the issue, which should have been resolved before it's landing in the court of justice.
The consumers in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir are left high and dry by the Govt., and by their acts the Govt. is aiding traders and service providers who are in the business of exploiting innocent citizens by selling defective products or giving unsatisfactory service. Therefore, the administration is as much responsible in causing loss and mental agony to the innocent consumers, as much the mischievous traders and service providers are causing.
Though the Consumer Protection Act 2019 starts with an address; "An act to provide for protection of consumer and for the said purpose , to establish authorities for timely and effective administration and settlement of consumer disputes……..", but the same seems to be only false promise to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, as they have no place to go seeking redress of their grievance with respect to consumer complaints. Irony is, already pending Consumer Complaints and Appeals before the District Consumer Forum and State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission, which are about 2500 in number are lying in limbo with the Department of Food Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs waiting for their fate to be decided. So, what to talk about fresh consumer complaints redress, when already pending complaints are clogged by the Government. Thus, the govt. has miserably failed in its duty and legal responsibility to protect the rights of its citizen, who are basically left in the hands of retailers and service providers who can deal with the consumers in the way they like, without fear in anyway, as at present there is nothing in operation to hold them accountable for their wrongs.
The failure of Govt. to run consumer courts in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is just another instance depicting the lackadaisical approach of the bureaucrats, who while sitting at the helm of affairs behave capriciously, with no accountability towards their duty, thereby depriving the citizens of their basic legal rights. Recently while hearing a matter before the Apex Court, a sitting Judge has passed a remark that most of the litigations are unnecessarily generated by the govt., because of their failure to take decision even on petty issues, resultantly the matter comes to us and the court has to examine the same, causing unnecessary burden on the courts.
Just like Consumer Courts, the issue of Central Administrative Tribunal was also raised, when around 40,000 service matter cases were about to transfer from High Court to Central Administrative Tribunal Chandigarh, as being the nearest bench having jurisdiction. But due to hue and cry by legal fraternity, in as much as, filing of petition before the Apex Court in regard to the same, a Central Administrative Tribunal having its bench in Jammu was constituted for Jammu and Kashmir. Whereas, the people of Kashmir are still suffering and asking for a regional bench in Srinagar, as it's quite difficult for them to have easy access to Jammu bench, like in the present circumstances when highway is closed from last 6 days due to continuous snowfall.
As it is said; "Failing to plan is planning to fail". The present chaotic situation in Union Territory and a conscious decision with properly chalked out plan by govt. would have definitely helped to deal with the crisis with which the people of Jammu and Kashmir are dealing.
At one instance the govt. boasts about good governance and new era towards the development of the region, but in other way they have dragged people of Jammu and Kashmir away from justice, by not providing the mechanism through which they can enforce their consume rights.
However, it's never too late to do anything and Govt. can still take positive steps at an earliest to establish Consumer Courts across the Union Territory, so that the consumers won't get exploited in the hands of traders and service providers anymore.
R. D. Singh Bandral is a practising Advocate in the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir, Jammu.