The government has merged several powerful administrative tribunals and assumed powers to appoint and remove their chiefs, triggering fears that the move will undermine the authority and independence of these quasi-judicial institutions.

In a bid to rationalise tribunals and bring in more uniformity in terms of service and efficiency, the Centre brought the axe down on eight tribunals, as part of its amendments to the Finance Bill previously in 2017.

CJI Suggestion

The top court had said all it wants is that “the tribunals work efficiently and independently”.

The court had said it is tentatively of the view that directions given by the apex court in its two verdicts of 1997 and 2010 for bringing all the tribunals of the country under one nodal agency should have been “implemented long back”.

What are tribunals?

  • Tribunals were added in the Constitution by Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976 as Part XIV-A, which has only two articles viz. 323-A and 323-B.
  • While article 323-A deals with Administrative Tribunals; article 323-B deals with tribunals for other matters.
  • The ‘tribunals’ are not courts of normal jurisdiction, but they have very specific and predefined work area.

Its Issues

The Finance Bill 2017 ​: Finance Bill, 2017, being passed as a money bill includes attempt to rationalise the functioning of multiple tribunals.

  • Due to merger, the number of tribunals has decreased to 19 from 26
  • Merger: the Competition Appellate Tribunal will be merged with the National Company Law Tribunal
  • The Telecom Dispute Appellate Tribunal will also do the work of the Cyber Law Appellate Tribunal and and the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority Appellate Tribunal
  • The tribunal relating to the Employees’ Provident Fund will be subsumed in the Industrial Tribunal

Now, more control rests with the Central Government

  • Under the Section 184 of the Finance Act, 2017 (1) the qualifications, (2) tenure,(3) conditions of service, (4) removal and emoluments of the chairpersons and members of these tribunals will all be under the control of the Centre Controversy
  • The Madras Bar Association has challenged in the Madras High Court the validity of the amendments in the Finance bill, 2017
  • Controversy : The process(Implemented through the recent amendments) through which adjudicatory bodies under different laws can be abolished by a money bill
  • And, the Centre taking over the entire process of removing the presiding officers

Positive impact

  • Reducing the number of tribunals will speed up dispute resolution and curb wasteful expenditure.
  • Rationalising tribunals would lead to efficiency.
  • It will ensure uniform service conditions Since few tribunals have lesser pending cases, there are chances that the excess bandwidths could be used in few cases.
  • May prevent overlap e.g. Competition Appellate Tribunal (Compat) will be merged with the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal. Since both deal with similar matters, it will particularly help in cases where a single transaction is overseen by both. E.g. Idea-Vodafone merger.

Solutions

  • India has a number of tribunals to look into appeals made from orders of specific regulators or sectors. Hence post merging, the Centre will have to ensure specialisation.
  • High courts that deal with all matters have dedicated benches. Similarly in tribunals too, specific cases can be dealt by respective benches.
  • Senior people from diverse backgrounds, can be appointed to deal with varied industry matters Uniformity in administrative rules will help in streamlining the functioning of these quasi-judicial bodies and ensure that vacancies aren’t kept pending for long.
  • The government must ensure the independence of the tribunal – a requirement that is part of the basic structure of the constitution.

 

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