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What is a Tribunal?

  • A quasi-judicial institution established to deal with issues in relation to administrative or tax-related disputes.

  • It performs a number of functions like adjudicating disputes, determining rights between contesting parties, making an administrative decision, reviewing an existing administrative decision and so forth.

Need for Tribunals

  • To overcome the problem of pendency in Courts and reduce workload of courts.

  • To expedite decisions and to provide a forum which would be manned by lawyers and experts in the areas falling under the jurisdiction of the tribunal.

  • To perform specialised roles in various fields such as hearing disputes related to the environment, armed forces, tax and administrative issues.

  • To provide speedy and cheaper dispute settlement to aggrieved parties.

Constitutional Provisions

  • Tribunals were not part of the original Constitution; they were incorporated into the Constitution by the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976.


Tribunals in India

Administrative Tribunals


Advantages and Disadvantages


Challenges of Administrative Tribunals

  • Lack of autonomy in the appointment and funding of tribunals.

  • In the case of L. Chandra Kumar vs. Union of India & Ors. (1997), the Supreme Court held that appeals against orders of a tribunal could be made in the High Court, defeating the purpose of reducing the burden of the normal courts.

  • Lack of appropriate infrastructure for the tribunals to function efficiently.

  • Appointment of retired judges as chairpersons to tribunals results in potential show of favouritism towards certain in order to ensure appointment post-retirement.

  • Influence of the executive and lack of autonomy of tribunals.

Other Tribunals

  1. Armed Forces Tribunal

  • Military tribunal established under the Armed Forces Tribunal Act, 2007.

  • Settles disputes with respect to the commission, emoluments, appointments and service conditions of personnel in the armed forces.

  • Its principal bench is in New Delhi. It also has ten regional benches.

2. National Green Tribunal

  • Established in 2010 for effective and expeditious disposal of cases that are related to protection and conservation of the environment, forests and other natural resources.

  • Tribunal has jurisdiction over all civil cases involving substantial question relating to environment (including enforcement of any legal right relating to environment).

  • ‘Special’ because India is the third country following Australia and New Zealand to have such a system.

  • Principal Bench in New Delhi and regional benches in Pune (West), Bhopal (Central), Chennai (South) and Kolkata (East).

  • Challenges:
    Two important acts - Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 have been left out of NGT’s purview, which restricts the jurisdiction of NGT and hampers functioning.
    Lack of clarity on the position of the NGT in relation to High Courts results in NGT decisions being challenged in various High Courts under Article 226 under the argument that High Courts are superior to the NGT, despite the NGT Act providing for appeals directly to the Supreme Court.
    The decisions of the NGT are not fully complied with by stakeholders or the government, under the pretext of an unfeasible timeframe.
    The lack of human and financial resources has led to high pendency of cases - which undermines NGT’s very objective of disposal of appeals within 6 months.

  • Landmark cases:
    Betty C. Alvares vs. The State of Goa and Ors. - Even a Foreign National Can Approach the NGT
    Almitra H. Patel & Ors. vs. Union of India and Ors. - Complete prohibition on open burning of waste on lands
    Manoj Misra Vs. Delhi Development Authority & Ors. – The Art of Living Foundation was penalised INR 5 Crores for damaging the Yamuna plains during its conduct of the World Culture Festival.

3. Water Disputes Tribunal

  • These are constituted for the purpose of settling disputes between Indian states on the question of water-sharing between rivers that flow through multiple states.

  • Governed by the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956, according to which, if a State Government makes a request regarding any water dispute and the Central Government is of opinion that the water dispute cannot be settled by negotiations, then a Water Disputes Tribunal is constituted for the adjudication of the water dispute.

  • The Act was amended in 2002 to include the major recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission. Amendments mandated a 1-year time frame to setup the water disputes tribunal and also a 3-year time frame to give a decision.

  • The Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Act, 2019 was passed in the Lok Sabha in July 2019, which states that a single water disputes tribunal shall be set up, with multiple regional benches, and all existing water dispute tribunals shall be dissolved.

4. Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT)

  • Set up in 1941, as the first experiment in tribunalization in the history of India.

  • ITAT deals with appeals under the direct taxes acts.

  • Second appellate authority under the direct taxes and first independent forum in its appellate hierarchy.

  • Orders passed by the ITAT can be appealed only on the basis of a substantial question of law before the respective High Court.

  • Currently, the tribunal has 63 Benches.

Difference Between Tribunal and Court

Administrative Tribunals and Ordinary Courts both deal with the disputes between the parties which affects the rights of the subjects.

Differences between a Court and Administrative Tribunal:

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