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SC gives Govt. two weeks to fill all tribunal vacancies

Context:

The Supreme Court accused the Centre of “cherry-picking” names for appointments to tribunals groaning under backlog and left almost defunct by long-pending vacancies.

Relevance:

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

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the present vacancies in tribunals
  2. Constitutional provisions and mandates regarding Tribunals
  3. Issues with tribunalization/tribunals

About the present vacancies in tribunals

  • Chief Justice of India read out the details of over 240 vacancies in key tribunals with some tribunals even lacking presiding officers.
  • The tribunals included some critical ones like the National Green Tribunal, Income Tax Appellate Tribunal and Central Administrative Tribunal among others.
  • The bench also lamented the fact that recommendations to the tribunals by the selection committees led by sitting Supreme Court judges have been largely ignored by the government.

Observations by the SC

  • Noting the pitiable state of tribunals and state of litigants waiting for justice from the severely under-resourced tribunals, the Special Bench of the Supreme Court has given the government a two-week deadline to make appointments to all the tribunals.
  • The bench also observed how the recommendations to the tribunals by the selection committees have been largely ignored by the government and it has been “cherry-picking” names for appointments to tribunals even from the waitlist overlooking the names from the final ‘select’ list. This practice, the CJI noted, goes against the democratic principles of working under a rule of law.
  • The search-cum-selection committees, headed by sitting Supreme Court judges are tasked with interviewing and short-listing suitable candidates for tribunals.

Concerns regarding vacancies in tribunals

  • The large vacancies have made the tribunals ineffective and redundant.
  • The large vacancies mainly attributable to the delay in appointments have rendered the tribunals defunct and with High Courts having no jurisdiction over the areas of law wielded by tribunals, litigants have nowhere to go for justice and this would adversely impact the right of the people to access justice.

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.
  2. State administrative tribunals (SAT):
    • 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/tribunals

  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 principle of separation of powers: Tribunalisation is seen as encroachment of judicial branch by the government.

-Source: The Hindu

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