Supreme Court of India Raps Centre for 240 Tribunal Vacancies across India: “You Are Testing Our Patience!”

In response to a Public Interest Litigation filed by Advocate Amit Sahni, on August 07, 2021, a two-judge divisional bench of Chief Justice of India N. V. Ramana and Justice Surya Kant asked the Centre’s response to the multitude of vacancies across different tribunals in India: 20 Presiding Officers, 110 Judicial Members and 111 Technical Members. Chief Justice N. V. Ramana asked the Centre to either continue or close the tribunals owing to the incomprehensible stand of the Centre on the tribunal vacancies while Justice Surya Kant threatened to summon all top officials of the country before them if a response is not received from the Centre about the same. The situation came to light when the Centre recently notified DRT Lucknow to take over the jurisdictional territory under DRT Jabalpur owing to the absence of a Presiding Officer at the Debt Recovery Tribunal, Jabalpur; additionally, chairpersons of 15 DBTs lie vacant: Chandigarh (3), Delhi (3) and one each in Chennai, Cuttack, Ernakulam, Kolkata (along with the post of chairperson at the Kolkata Debt Recovery Appellate Tribunal), Patna, Pune, Nagpur, Jabalpur and Dehradun. The Chief Justice pointed at the absence of a chairperson at the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, the Telecom Disputes and Settlement Tribunal, Forfeited Property Appellate Tribunal with 25 and 27 vacancies in the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal for Judicial Members and Technical Members respectively; additionally, the Chief Justice drew the Centre’s attention to the harrowing 25, 30, 32 and 23 vacancies across various positions at the Railway Claims Tribunal, the National Green Tribunal, the Central Administrative Tribunal and the Armed Forces Tribunal. The court gave Tushar Mehta, the Solicitor General of India, 10 days to submit a reply regarding the said vacancies even though names have been recommended for the same by statutory selection committees headed by sitting judges of the Supreme Court, wherein the next date of the hearing was pushed for August 16.

The bench rapped the Union Ministry of Finance for their inability of establishing a CGST Appellate Tribunal even after four years of the CGST Act coming into force, wherein the Chief Justice pointed out to the CGST Act where any individual aggrieved by a GST authority is entitled to approach the CGST Appellate Tribunal within 90 days of the cause of action; however, the non-constitution of the tribunal makes the aforementioned provision irrelevant per the Chief Justice. The bench observed the following: Although certain lobbyists have certain vested interests in upholding the non-functionality of certain tribunals, the impression by the court is that the bureaucracy is uninterested in allowing the tribunals to adjudicate particular disputes. The Chief Justice held that the non-operational tribunals increase the case-load of their respective High Courts since the tribunals are tasked with adjudicating specialized subject-areas, wherein the cases of the specialized subject-areas are now taken with the respective High Courts. It is worth noting that the Chief Justice pointed at the following facts and figures regarding the vacancies across different tribunals:

Sr. No Tribunal Head of the Selection Committee Recommendations Fillings Against Vacancy
1. National Consumer Dispute Resolution Commission Justice D. Y. Chandrachud

(June 24, 2020)

Judicial Members: 8; Technical Members: 6 2
2. Armed Forces Tribunal Justice A. M. Khanwilkar

(November 6, 2020)

Judicial Members:13; Technical Members: 10 0
3. National Green Tribunal Justice S. K. Kaul Judicial Members: 14; Technical Members: 16 0
4. Income Tax Appellate Tribunal Justice A. M. Khanwilkar

(October 2019)

Judicial Members: 25

Technical Members: 27

0

 

Justice Surya Kant asked the Centre for their position regarding their stand on the continuance of the operation of tribunals across India, wherein he added, ‘You cannot defunct the tribunals. If you do not want the tribunals, then allow the Supreme Court to restore the jurisdiction of the respective High Courts over the specialised subjects of the said tribunals because without any solution, the people are left without any remedy due to the non-operation of the tribunals, wherein the people can then approach the High Courts. Recommendations for appointments for the vacant posts in various tribunals were made by selection committees in strict adherence to the procedure mandated by the statutory provisions governing the said tribunals.”

A three-judge divisional bench of Chief Justice N. V. Ramana, Justice D. Y. Chandrachud and Justice L. N. Rao convened on September 6, 2021, wherein it criticized the inability of the Centre to act on the directions of the Supreme Court in the matter of filling the vacancies across different tribunals. The Chief Justice questioned the respect shown by the Centre towards the judgements of the Supreme Court: “You are testing our patience! How many persons were appointed? You said some persons were appointed? Where are the appointments?”

Justice L. N. Rao questioned the Solicitor General of India about the lack of adherence of the appointments made by the Centre to the various directions laid down by the Supreme Court of India by saying, “You are emasculating these Tribunals by not appointing members. Many Tribunals are on the verge of closing down.”

Justice D. Y. Chandrachud pointed the direction of the Centre to the stalled operation of the economically critical NCLT (National Company Law Tribunal) and NCLAT (National Company Law Appellate Tribunal) due to the existence of harrowing vacancies; additionally, the Chief Justice presented two options to the Centre: either the Supreme Court shuts down the tribunals or the Supreme Court makes the appointments without the waiting for the Centre.

Tushar Mehta, the Solicitor General of India, asked the bench for two to three days to provide a response; subsequently, he remarked that the final response of the Union Ministry of Finance regarding the recommendations made by the various selection committees shall be within two weeks.

The bench posted the matter for September 13, 2021, wherein the Chief Justice asked the Solicitor General of India to convey the instructions of the Supreme Court to the respective ministries at the Centre.

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