Independence of tribunals

3rd March – Independence of Tribunals

Independence of Tribunals

In November 2019, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, in Rojer Mathew, declared the Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal and other Authorities (Qualification, Experience and other Conditions of Service of Members) Rules, 2017 as unconstitutional for being violative of principles of independency of the judiciary. The insertion of non-judicial members in such tribunals also endanger the independence of tribunals.

What is the issue?

  • In the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT), Customs Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal (CESTAT), Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), Debt Recovery Appellate Tribunal (DRAT), etc., a non-judicial member can become the president/chairman/chairperson, as the case may be.
  • Therefore, when a non-judicial member becomes a member in the selection committee, the Supreme Court judge will be in minority, giving primacy to the executive, which is impermissible.
  • In Madras Bar Association (2010), the Court had held that the term of office “shall be changed to a term of seven or five years”. Based on this, in Rojer Mathew, the Court held that the term of three years is too short, and by the time members of tribunal achieve a refined knowledge, expertise and efficiency, one term will be over. Now, in the 2020 rules, the tenure of members has been increased from three years to four years, thereby blatantly violating the directions of the Supreme Court.

Background –

  • Through Part XIV of the Finance Act, 2017, around 26 Central statutes were amended, and the power to prescribe eligibility criteria, selection process, removal, salaries, tenure and other service conditions pertaining to various members of 19 tribunals were sub-delegated to the rule-making powers of the Central government.
  • In Madras Bar Association (2010), a Constitution Bench dealing with the validity and appointment of members to the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) under the Companies Act, 1956, held that the selection committee should comprise the Chief Justice of India or his nominee (chairperson, with a casting vote), a senior judge of the Supreme Court or Chief Justice of the High Court, and secretaries in the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Law and Justice respectively.
  • Subsequent Constitution Bench decisions in Madras Bar Association (2014), Rojer Mathew and the decision of the Madras High Court in Shamnad Basheer have repeatedly held that the principles of the Madras Bar Association (2010) are applicable to the selection process and constitution of all tribunals in India.

What did the court say?

  • Describing the search-cum-selection-committee as an attempt to keep the judiciary away from the process of selection and appointment of members, vice-chairman and chairman of tribunals, the Court held that the executive is a litigating party in most of the litigation and hence cannot be allowed to be a dominant participant in tribunal appointments.
  • In other words, to deny the executive an upper hand in appointing members to tribunals, the court ordered to have two judges of the Supreme Court to be a part of the four-member selection committee.

Conclusion –

By eliminating chances of bright advocates applying for the post of judicial members, the government surely intends to fill them with candidates from the Indian Legal Service. The 2020 rules are, thus, in contempt of several Constitution Bench decisions of the Supreme Court. Unless the Court comes down heavily on the Central government, we will see these encroachments over and over again.

SourceThe Hindu

QUESTIONThe proliferation of tribunal and decrease of judicial members in such tribunals goes against the idea of separation of powers. Discuss.

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