From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Tribunals
Mains level : Issues with Tribunals Reform Bill 2021
The Supreme Court has challenged the government to produce material showing its reasons for introducing the Tribunal Reforms Bill of 2021, which abolishes nine appellate tribunals and revives provisions of an ordinance struck down by the Supreme Court, in the Parliament.
What are Tribunals?
- Tribunals are specialist judicial bodies that decide disputes in a particular area of law.
- They are institutions established for discharging judicial or quasi-judicial duties.
- The objective may be to reduce the caseload of the judiciary or to bring in subject expertise for technical matters.
Do you know?
The Income Tax Appellate Tribunal was established as the first Tribunal in India back in 1941.
Creation of Tribunals
In 1976, Articles 323A and 323B were inserted in the Constitution of India through the 42nd Amendment.
- Article 323A: This empowered Parliament to constitute administrative Tribunals (both at central and state level) for adjudication of matters related to recruitment and conditions of service of public servants.
- Article 323B: This specified certain subjects (such as taxation and land reforms) for which Parliament or state legislatures may constitute tribunals by enacting a law.
- In 2010, the Supreme Court clarified that the subject matters under Article 323B are not exclusive, and legislatures are empowered to create tribunals on any subject matters under their purview as specified in the Seventh Schedule.
SC stance on Tribunals
- The Supreme Court has ruled that tribunals, being quasi-judicial bodies, should have the same level of independence from the executive as the judiciary.
- Key factors include the mode of selection of members, the composition of tribunals, and the terms and tenure of service.
- In order to ensure that tribunals are independent of the executive, the Supreme Court had recommended that all administrative matters be managed by the law ministry rather than the ministry associated with the subject area.
- Later, the Court recommended the creation of an independent National Tribunals Commission for the administration of tribunals.
- These recommendations have not been implemented.
Issues with tribunals
- Pendency: Whereas the reasoning for setting up some tribunals was to reduce the pendency of cases in courts, several tribunals are facing the issue of a large caseload and pendency.
- No appointment: With over 240 vacancies in key tribunals where thousands of cases were pending, not a single appointment had been made by the government in any of these tribunals till date.
What is the recent news?
- A three-judge Bench led by CJI has put the government on the dock about the complete absence of material justifying the Bill and also the lack of proper debate in the Parliament.
- The provisions regarding conditions of service and tenure of Tribunal Members and Chairpersons were struck down by the Supreme Court.
- However, the same provisions re-appeared in the Tribunal Reforms Bill recently passed.
- The court has also noted its reservations against the complete dissolution of some tribunals.
What happens to cases pending before the tribunals are dissolved?
- These cases will be transferred to High Courts or commercial civil courts immediately. Legal experts have been divided on the efficacy of the government’s move.
- While on the one hand, the cases might get a faster hearing and disposal if taken to High Courts, experts fear that the lack of specialization in regular courts could be detrimental to the decision-making process.
- For example, the FCAT exclusively heard decisions appealing against decisions of the censor board, which requires expertise in art and cinema.
Observations made by the Court
- With over 240 vacancies in key tribunals where thousands of cases were pending, not a single appointment had been made by the government in any of these tribunals to date.
- The CJI repeated his question of whether the government was moving towards closing down the tribunals.
A new flashpoint between Executive and Judiciary
- The verdict discussed the possibility of legislation overriding the court’s directions.
- In other cases, too, the SC and Parliament have been at loggerheads on the issue of rationalization of tribunals.