15 years after SC order, babus hold on to tribunals
“The department of justice prepared a proposal for creation of a Central Tribunal Division and sought comments of the 24 ministries/departments having administrative control of 62 tribunals/authorities. Of the 24 ministries/departments, 10 opposed it, four supported it and eight conveyed conditional concurrence,” the law ministry said in an affidavit.
Faced with persistent queries from a bench of Justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya on efforts made to make the tribunals functional in letter and spirit, the Centre said to overcome divergent views, it has set up an inter-ministerial group (IMG) “to discuss the feasibility of having central level agency for exercising administrative control over the quasi-judicial bodies (read tribunals)”.
The first meeting of the IMG was held on September 13 in which department of revenue did not favour setting up of Common Tribunal Division (CTD). Likewise, ministries of corporate affairs, power, petroleum & natural gas and commerce too said the tribunals under them functioned for a specific purpose and selection of the chairperson and members was a specialized task having no parallel to other tribunals.
The law ministry, in its affidavit, said, “It was impressed upon the participants in the September 13 meeting that there is urgency in the matter and the need for finding a common ground for way forward. The IMG members have been requested to consider four proposals – to devise uniformity for those tribunals performing quasi-judicial functions, possible uniformity in appointment of chairman/members of the tribunals, need for uniform terms and conditions of service and mechanism for monitoring the performance of the tribunals as well as to look into complaints of corruption and misconduct.”
The SC’s 1997 judgment in L Chandra Kumar case had unambiguously said, “We are of the view that, until a wholly independent agency for administration of all such tribunals can be set up, it is desirable that all such tribunals should be, as far as possible, under a single nodal ministry which will be in a position to oversee the working of these tribunals. For a number of reasons, that ministry should appropriately be the ministry of law.”
The law ministry said the court’s 15-year-old suggestion was considered by the government but “the concerned ministries where the tribunals are functional have been resisting the creation of a centralized agency in the law ministry on the ground that each tribunal is set up for certain specific objective pertaining to a subject matter dealt with by that ministry”.
It said the chairman and members of these tribunals — like Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, , Employees Provident Fund Appellate Tribunal, Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal, Film Certification Appellate Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal for Foreign Exchange, Appellate Tribunal For Prevention of Money Laundering Act, Securities Appellate Tribunal, Railways Claims Tribunal and Railways Rates Tribunal – were drawn from various sources with the specific background, knowledge and experience required for that tribunal.
“These tribunals do not have identical arrangements and have officers of different backgrounds with subject knowledge. Thus, there is no uniformity in manning of the tribunals at the chairman/member level,” it said.
However, the government’s effort had been to formulate a uniform policy for appointment of chairpersons and members of various tribunals covering age, tenure and other conditions of appointment, it said but lamented that there had been no consensus on it among the ministries.