The Administrative Tribunals Act of 1985 established both the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) and State Administrative Tribunals. The CAT holds original jurisdiction over matters related to the recruitment and conditions of service for individuals in public services. With members drawn from judicial and administrative streams, the CAT has evolved to play a significant judicial role.

Functions of the CAT:

  • Adjudication of Disputes: The CAT resolves disputes and complaints concerning the recruitment and conditions of service for individuals appointed to public services and posts at the Union, State, or Local Authority levels.
  • Extensive Jurisdiction: The CAT’s authority extends to employees of 208 Public Sector Undertakings/Organizations as per government notifications.

Exercising Powers as an Independent Judicial Authority:

  • Assertive Judicial Independence: The CAT demonstrated its judicial autonomy by reproaching the Delhi High Court for intervening in a case already pending before the tribunal. This stance emphasized the importance of preserving the sanctity of the judicial process.
  • Retaining Equitable Approach: In a recent decision, the CAT protected the rights of government employees nearing retirement, advocating for their peaceful continuation at a particular location.
  • Addressing Policy Issues: The CAT delves into cases of service regularization, offering insights to concerned Ministries or Departments to revise policies, particularly in situations concerning disadvantaged Group-C employees.
  • Challenging Suspension Orders: The CAT intervenes in decisions related to suspension orders, displaying its power to question decisions made by relevant government bodies.

Challenges and Concerns:

  • Erosion of Rule of Law: The adoption of distinct laws and procedures by the CAT raises concerns about the erosion of the Rule of Law. The tribunalization process is viewed as an encroachment by the executive onto the judiciary.
  • Lack of Uniformity: The absence of a standardized administrative adjudication procedure and the adoption of summary procedures at times contribute to inconsistency.
  • Appellate Process: Appeals from CAT decisions go directly to the Supreme Court, questioning the efficiency and necessity of such a process.
  • Expertise vs. Judicial Role: CAT’s rationale for expert adjudication weakens when its panels are presided over by retired high court judges.

Way Forward:

  • Selective Appeal: To streamline the judicial process, appeals against CAT decisions should be exceptional rather than routine, focusing on cases with broader implications or significant errors.
  • Criteria for Filing Appeals: Appeals should only be filed if there are substantial errors, discrepancies with service rules interpreted by higher courts, or if there are profound administrative or financial repercussions.
  • Reforms and Accountability: Reforms should be considered to enhance justice delivery while maintaining the rule of law. Some degree of judicial oversight over CAT could help maintain the balance between its administrative and judicial functions.

The Central Administrative Tribunal, established under the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985, has transformed from its original role as a grievance redressal body into a substantial judicial authority. Its functioning reflects a commitment to upholding justice in matters concerning public service, while the challenges it faces underscore the need for continued reforms and a balanced approach between administrative and judicial functions.

Legacy Editor Changed status to publish April 24, 2024