Tribunals Reforms Bill

Topic 

Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021

Context
The Lok Sabha recently passed the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021 to dissolve at least eight tribunals
The Supreme Court has challenged the government to produce material showing its reasons for introducing the Tribunal Reforms Bill of 2021.

 
About Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021
• The bill dissolves 8 tribunals that functioned as appellate bodies to hear disputes under various statutes, and
• Transfer their functions to existing judicial forums such as a civil court or a High Court
• The Chairpersons and Members of the tribunal being abolished shall cease to hold office, with compensation equivalent to 3 months’ pay and allowances for their premature termination.

 

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.
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.

key provisions of Tribunal Reforms Bill,2021
• It amended Finance Act, 2017 that merged the tribunals based on domain
• Earlier, the Finance Act, 2017 had empowered the central government to notify rules on search-cum-selection committees and term of office.
• Now, these provisions have been included in the Bill itself.
• However, the qualification of members and other terms and conditions of service will still be notified by the central government.
• The Chairperson and Members of the Tribunals will be appointed by the central government on the recommendation of a Search-cum-Selection Committee that will consist of:
o CJI, or a Supreme Court Judge nominated by him, as the Chairperson (with casting vote),
o two Secretaries nominated by the central government,
o the sitting or outgoing Chairperson, or a retired Supreme Court Judge, or a retired Chief Justice of a High Court, and
o the Secretary of the Ministry under which the Tribunal is constituted (with no voting right).
• The central government must decide on the recommendations of selection committees preferably within 3 months.
• State administrative tribunals will have separate search-cum-selection committees which will consist of:
o the Chief Justice of the High Court of the concerned state, as the Chairperson (with a casting vote),
o the Chief Secretary of the state government and the Chairperson of the Public Service Commission of the concerned state,
o the sitting or outgoing Chairperson, or a retired High Court Judge, and
o the Secretary or Principal Secretary of the state’s general administrative department (with no voting right).
• Also, the central government shall, on the recommendation of the Search-cumSelection Committee, remove from office any Chairperson or a Member, whoo has been insolvent, or convicted of an offence involving moral turpitude; or
o has become physically/mentally incapable

o has acquired such financial or other interest, or abused the official position compromising public interest
• Age criterion and tenure of office –
o Four-year term of office for Chairperson and Members
o Upper age limit of 70 years for the Chairperson, and 67 years for members
o Minimum age requirement of 50 years for appointment of a chairperson or a member
o The Supreme Court had earlier struck down the Minimum age and the four-year tenure provisions.
o The Court had suggested that advocates with a minimum of 10 years of experience should be entitled to be appointed as members.

Issues Raised by Supreme Court
• Unconstitutional Legislative Overriding: There was lack of discussion over the bill, and the government has re-enacted the very same provisions struck down by the Court in the Madras Bar Association case (2021).
o It amounts to “unconstitutional legislative overriding” of the judgement passed by the SC.
• Repeated Violation of SC Orders: The Centre is not following the repeated directions issued by the Court to ensure the proper functioning of the Tribunals.
o The provisions in the ordinance regarding conditions of service and tenure of Tribunal Members and Chairpersons were struck down by the Supreme Court.
• Security of Tenure: The Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021 bars appointments to tribunals of persons below 50 years of age.

It undermines the length/security of tenure.
• Undermines the Separation of Powers: The bill allows the Central Government to take a decision on the recommendations made by the selection Committee, preferably within three months from the date of such
recommendation.
o Section 3(7) of the bill mandates the recommendation of a panel of two names by the search-cum selection committee to the Central Government, violating the principles of separation of powers and judicial
independence.
• Vacant Positions in Tribunals: India now has 16 tribunals including the National Green Tribunal, the Armed Forces Appellate Tribunal, the Debt Recovery Tribunal among others which also suffer from crippling vacancies.

o Existence of large number of vacancies of Members and Chairpersons and the inordinate delay caused in filling them up has resulted in weakening of the tribunals.
• Detrimental to the Decision-making Process: These cases will be transferred to High Courts or commercial civil courts immediately.
o The lack of specialisation in regular courts could be detrimental to the decision-making process.
o For example, the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) exclusively heard decisions appealing against decisions of the censor board, which requires expertise in art and cinema.
o Further, the dissolution of certain tribunals and appellate bodies, and the transfer of their functions to High Courts can be criticized on the grounds that Indian courts are already overburdened with their existing
caseload.

Conclusion
• 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.