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GOVT ISSUES TRIBUNALS REFORMS ORDINANCE

Context:

The government has issued an ordinance which does away with certain appellate tribunals and transfers their functions to other existing judicial bodies.

Recently, the government also introduced a bill in the Lok Sabha to abolish some tribunals where the public at large is not litigant. However, since the bill could not get parliamentary nod, an ordinance was issued.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance (Constitutional Provisions, Quasi-Judicial Bodies, Government Policies and Interventions)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Constitutional provisions and mandates regarding Tribunals
  2. Issues with tribunalization:
  3. Provisions of the Tribunals Reforms Ordinance, 2021
  4. Need for the Ordinance 2021

Constitutional provisions and mandates regarding Tribunals

The provision for Tribunals was added by the 42nd Constitutional amendment act which added two new articles to the constitution.

Article 323-A: of the constitution which empowers the parliament to provide for the establishment of administrative tribunals for adjudicating the disputes relating to recruitment and conditions of service of a person appointed to public service of centre, states, local bodies, public corporations and other public authority.

Accordingly, the Parliament has enacted Administrative Tribunals Act,1985 which authorizes parliament to establish Centre and state Administrative tribunals (CAT & SATs).

  1. Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT):
    • It was set up in 1985 with the principal bench at Delhi and additional benches in other states (It now has 17 benches, 15 operating at seats of HC’s and 2 in Lucknow and Jaipur.
    • It has original jurisdiction in matters related to recruitment and service of public servants (All India services, central services etc).
    • Its members have a status of High Court judges and are appointed by president.
    • Appeals against the order of CAT lie before the division of High Court after Supreme Court’s Chandra Kumar Judgement.
  1. State administrative tribunals
    • Central government can establish state administrative tribunals on request of the state according to Administrative tribunals act of 1985
    • SAT’s enjoy original jurisdiction in relation to the matters of state government employees.
    • Chairman and members are appointed by President in consultation with the governor.

Article 323-B: which empowers the parliament and the state legislatures to establish tribunals for adjudication of disputes related to following matters:

  1. Taxation
  2. Foreign exchange, Imports and Exports
  3. Industry and Labour
  4. Land reforms
  5. Ceiling on Urban Property
  6. Elections to parliament and state legislature
  7. Food stuffs
  8. Rent and Tenancy Rights

Issues with tribunalization:

  1. Appeal: Administrative tribunals were originally set up to provide specialized justice delivery and to reduce the burden of caseloads on regular courts. However, appeals from tribunals have inevitably managed to enter the mainstream judicial system.
  2. High Pendency: Many tribunals also do not have adequate infrastructure to work smoothly and perform the functions originally envisioned leading to high pendency rates thus proving unfruitful to deliver quick justice.
  3. Appointments: Appointments to tribunals are usually under the control of the executive. Not only does the government identify and appoint the members of the tribunals, but it also determines and makes appropriate staffing hires. This is problematic because often there is a lack of understanding of the staffing requirements in tribunals.
  4. There is a lack of information available on the functioning of tribunals. Websites are routinely non-existent, unresponsive or not updated.
  5. Accessibility is low due to scant geographic availability therefore justice becomes expensive and difficult.
  6. Against the separation of powers: Tribunalisation is seen as encroachment of judicial branch by the government.

Provisions of the Tribunals Reforms Ordinance, 2021

The Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021, issued by the Ministry of Law and Justice made amendments to the

  1. Cinematograph Act,
  2. Copyright Act,
  3. Customs Act,
  4. Patents Act,
  5. Airports Authority of India Act,
  6. Trade Marks Act,
  7. Geographical Indications of Goods (registration and protection) Act,
  8. Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act,
  9. Control of National Highways (land and traffic) Act, and
  10. Finance Act.

In the Cinematograph Act, the appellate body will now be the high court.

The FCAT was a statutory body constituted to hear appeals of filmmakers aggrieved by Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).

  • The Ordinance has amended the Finance Act 2017 to include provisions related to the composition of search-cum-selection committees, and term of office of members in the Act itself.

Need for the Ordinance 2021

  • There has been incessant litigation since 1985 by advocate bar associations against the tribunals over serious questions of their independence from the executive.
  • The quality of adjudication has been underwhelming in most cases, the delays have been substantial because the government has struggled to find competent persons willing to accept positions on these tribunals, and litigation has actually become more expensive, as these tribunals added another layer to it.
  • The Government of India began the process of rationalisation of tribunals in 2015.
  • By the Finance Act, 2017, seven tribunals were abolished or merged based on functional similarity and their total number was reduced to 19 from 26.

-Source: The Hindu

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