There is no dispute that most of the Tribunals are non-functional, CJI Gogoi
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There is no dispute that most of the Tribunals are non-functional, CJI Gogoi

Bar & Bench

A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court today began hearing the case filed by the Madras Bar Association on the issues plaguing Tribunals across India.

Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi headed the Bench, which also comprised Justices NV Ramana, DY Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna.

Senior Advocate Arvind Datar made submissions on behalf of the petitioner.

Datar opened by saying that there are presently 93 Tribunals, including all quasi-judicial bodies. CJI Gogoi stated that there are 36 major Tribunals which can be classified based on the subject matter they deal with.

The Bench discussed the functioning and service conditions of those manning the Tribunals and the need for uniformity.

Another issue touched upon was the expertise of persons heading these bodies. CJI Gogoi observed,

“Often times, a person has worked in a certain area of law till the age of 58-59, and then suddenly they are appointed as members of a tribunal dealing with a whole different subject matter.”

The Chief Justice went on to state,

“There is no dispute today that most of the tribunals are non-functional.”

A practical solution, in his view, was to have as few of them as possible.

Datar went on to highlight the problems Tribunals across the country are facing. He cited the example of the National Green Tribunal, which is only functioning in Delhi, despite having benches across the country. He also highlighted the lack of infrastructure and inadequate budgetary allocation to these bodies. He further submitted,

“Different Tribunals are administered by different administrating bodies. There is no uniformity on administration.”

At this point, CJI Gogoi said that the government should give its opinion on whether Tribunals should continue to exist.

Citing from personal experience, Gogoi J said that when he headed the committee to appoint National Company Law Tribunal members, only 3-4 members were appointed.

Justice Ramana interjected,

“Recommendations for appointment to NCLT are made, but we don’t know how long government will take to clear them.”

Datar suggested that appointments to Tribunals of relatively higher value for people should be made first. He proceeded to hand over a concept note to the Bench. After going through the note, CJI Gogoi asked Datar,

“You’re suggesting there be a National Tribunal Commission (NTC) to govern the Tribunals?”

The note also suggests that the persons appointed to the NTC shall not hold any other public office. CJI Gogoi said in response,

“What you’re suggesting is something akin to the Lokpal.”

Datar then concluded his submissions. Attorney General KK Venugopal began his arguments addressing the issue of vacancies, and submitted a report on the same to the Bench.

He then apprised the Court of the steps taken by the government in an attempt to fill vacancies in Tribunals. The steps taken included issuance of circulars, sending of applications to the Supreme Court as regards current vacancies, as well as anticipated vacancies, Venugopal submitted.

At this juncture, the Bench summoned Supreme Court Registrar PK Sharma, seeking details on the applications forwarded to the Court. After a brief discussion, it came to light that proposals for appointments to the Debts Recovery Tribunal and Debts Recovery Appellate Tribunal were received three days ago.

After Venugopal concluded his arguments, the Bench began to dictate the order.

The Centre is required to file an affidavit stating the procedure and time within which the Court’s previous order vis-a-vis Tribunals will be implemented. It was emphasised that the Central Administrative Tribunal, the Intellectual Property Appellate Board, the Armed Forces Tribunal, the National Green Tribunal and the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal require immediate attention.

The Court also stated that the earlier recommendations made with respect to the National Company Tribunal and National Company Appellate Tribunal be implemented within two weeks.

Read the Order:

Madras-Bar-Association-vs-UOI.pdf
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