Tribunal Reforms Bill, 2021
● The Supreme Court challenged the government to produce evidence showing its reasons for introducing the Tribunal Reforms Bill, 2021.
● The Bill revives provisions of the Tribunal Reforms(Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021 that were struck down by the Supreme Court.
● The Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on 3rd August and by the Rajya Sabha on 9th August.
Probable Mains question:
Critically examine the provisions of the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021.
Provisions of the Bill:
● The Act aims to dissolve 8 appellate bodies and transfer their functions to other existing judicial bodies. Eg Appellate Tribunal under Cinematograph Act, 1952 is transferred to the High Court , Appellate Board under Trademarks Act, 1987 is transferred to High Court.
● The Bill specifies that Chairpersons and Members of tribunals will be appointed by the Central government on the recommendation of a Search-cum Selection Committee. The Committee will consist of:
(i) the Chief Justice of India, or aSupreme Court Judge nominated by him, as the Chairperson (with casting vote),
(ii) two Secretaries nominated by the central government,
(iii) the sitting or outgoing Chairperson, or a retired Supreme Court Judge, or a retired Chief Justice of a High Court, and
(iv) the Secretary of the Ministry under which the Tribunal is constituted (no voting right).
● State administrative tribunals will have separate Search - cum Selection Committees consisting of -
(i) the Chief Justice of the High Court of the concerned state, as the Chairman (with a casting vote)
(ii) the Chief Secretary of the state government and the Chairman of the Public Service Commission of the concerned state,
(iii) the sitting or outgoing Chairperson, or a retired High Court Judge, and
(iv) theSecretary or Principal Secretary of the state’s general administrative department (with no voting right).
● The Bill provides for a term of four years subject to the upper age limit of 70 for Chairperson and 67 for the Members. The minimum agefor a Member to be appointed to a tribunal is 50.
Concerns regarding the Bill:
● Burdening High Courts : Abolishing Appellate bodies and transferring their functions to judicial bodies like High Courts may increase the time takento dispose of cases as High Courts already have a high pendency.
● Bill reintroduces provisions that were in Ordinance : The Bill introduces provisions like term and age limit of members that were present in the Tribunal Reforms(Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021 and were struck down by the Supreme Court.
● Minimum age limit violates Supreme Court Judgments : In past judgements, like Madras Bar Association vs Union of India (2020) the Supreme Court has stated that advocates with at least 10 years of relevant experience must be eligible to be appointed as judicial members,i.e. the qualification required for a High Court judge. A minimum age requirement of 50 years may prevent such persons from being appointed as tribunal members.
● Term of presiding officers and members violates Supreme Court judgements : The Supreme Court in Madras Bar Association vs Union of India (2021) stated that specifying four years of term of office violates the principles of separation of powers, independence of judiciary, rule of law, and equality before law. The Supreme Court had stated that the term of office for the Chairperson and other members must be five years subject to the upper age limit .
● Bill passed without debate : The Bill was passed in both the Houses of Parliament without any major debates and discussions which is a cause of concern.
● Bill undermines the idea of separation of powers enshrined in Article 50.
The Bill in its present form has several major concerns. The need of the hour is to address these concerns to revitalise the tribunals.