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Supreme Court on Tribunal Reforms Bill, 2021

Tribunal Reforms Bill Of 2021:

The Supreme Court of India (SC) has challenged the government to produce material showing its reasons for introducing the Tribunal Reforms Bill of 2021.

  • The Bill replaces the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021 which was quashed by the Supreme Court.

Issues Raised by SC:

  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The lack of specialisation in regular courts could be detrimental to the decision-making process.
  • 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.

About the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021:

  • The Bill seeks to dissolve certain appellate bodies and transfer their functions to other existing judicial bodies. For example, the disputes heard by the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal will be addressed by the High Court.
  • The Finance Act, 2017 merged tribunals based on domain. For example, the Competition Appellate Tribunal has been merged with the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal.
  • The Chairperson and Members of the Tribunals will be appointed by the central government on the recommendation of a Search-cum-Selection Committee. The Committee will consist of:
    • The Chief Justice of India, or a Supreme Court Judge nominated by him, as the Chairperson (with casting vote).
    • Two Secretaries nominated by the central governments.
    • The sitting or outgoing Chairperson, or a retired Supreme Court Judge, or a retired Chief Justice of a High Court, and
    • The Secretary of the Ministry under which the Tribunal is constituted (with no voting right).
  • It will have separate search-cum-selection committees with the Chief Justice of the High Court of the concerned state, as the Chairman (with a casting vote).
  • The Bill provides for a four-year term of office (subject to the upper age limit of 70 years for the Chairperson, and 67 years for members).
  • Removal of Tribunal Members: It states that the central government shall, on the recommendation of the Search-cum-Selection Committee, remove from office any Chairperson or a Member.