Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021

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    In Context

    • Recently, the Supreme Court said the government’s move to bring Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021 merely days after the court struck down an identical law, may amount to dishonouring its judgment.

    About Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021 

    • The Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021 replaces a similar Ordinance promulgated in April 2021 that sought to dissolve eight tribunals.
      • The tribunals functioned as appellate bodies to hear disputes under various statutes and transferred their functions to existing judicial forums such as a civil court or a High Court.

    What are the tribunals that are being dissolved?

                                  Image Courtsey: IE

    Reasons for Dissolution 

    • The analysis of data of the last three years has shown that tribunals in several sectors have not necessarily led to faster justice delivery and they are also at a considerable expense to the exchequer. This has led to the decision to rationalise the functioning of tribunals, a process that began in 2015.
    • The Supreme Court recently expressed its discontentment over the functioning of tribunals in the country, given that several of these important quasi-judicial bodies are understaffed. 
      • India now has 16 tribunals including the National Green Tribunal, the Armed Forces Appellate Tribunal, the Debt Recovery Tribunal among others which also suffer from crippling vacancies as the SC has noted.

    Major Highlights of the Act

    • Amendments to the Finance Act, 2017: The Finance Act, 2017 merged tribunals based on domain.  
      • It also empowered the central government to notify rules on 
        • the Composition of search-cum-selection committees
        • Qualifications of tribunal members.
        • Their terms and conditions of service (such as their removal and salaries).  
    • The act removes these provisions from the Finance Act, 2017.
      • Provisions on the composition of selection committees and term of office have been included in the act.  
    • Search-cum-selection committees:  The Chairperson and Members of the Tribunals will be appointed by the central government on the recommendation of a Search-cum-Selection Committee. 
      •  State administrative tribunals will have separate search-cum-selection committees.  
    • The central government must decide on the recommendations of selection committees, preferably within three months of the date of the recommendation.
    • Eligibility and term of office: The act provides for a four-year term for tribunal members. It sets the upper age for the chairperson at 70 years and for the other members at 67 years. 
      • The minimum age limit for appointments is 50 years.
    • Uniform pay and rules: The act provide for uniform pay and rules for the search and selection committees across tribunals.
    • Removal of tribunal members: It also provides for the removal of tribunal members. It states that the central government shall, on the recommendation of the Search-cum-Selection Committee, remove from office any Chairperson or a Member.
    • The act states that the Chairpersons and Members of the tribunal being abolished shall cease to hold office, and they will be entitled to claim compensation equivalent to three months’ pay and allowances for their premature termination.

    Recent Petition/Issues linked to it 

    • The petitioners have argued that the Act was introduced in the Lok Sabha just days after the Supreme Court struck down the Tribunal Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance of 2021. 
      • The Act brought back the very same provisions in the ordinance which were struck down by the Supreme Court. 
      • All this was done without even removing the basis of the top court’s judgment.
    • The 2021 Act abolishes nine key tribunals, raises a serious threat to judicial independence by giving the government-wide powers regarding appointments, service conditions, salaries etc., of members of key tribunals. 
    • It was passed without parliamentary debate amidst ruckus in the House. 

    Way Forward 

    • Impartiality, independence, fairness and reasonableness in decision-making are the hallmarks of the judiciary.
    • Parliament should take caution while overriding or manipulating the judgements/orders of the Court.
    • The court scheduled the case for hearing on March 24.

    Tribunals

    • Tribunal is a quasi-judicial body set up to deal with problems such as resolving administrative or tax-related disputes.
    • The provision for Tribunals was added by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act which added two new articles to the constitution.
      • Article 323A: It empowers the parliament to provide for the establishment of administrative tribunals for adjudicating the disputes relating to recruitment and conditions of service of a person appointed to public service of centre, states, local bodies, public corporations and other public authority.
        • Accordingly, parliament has enacted the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 which authorizes parliament to establish Centre and state administrative tribunals (CAT & SATs).
      • Article 323B: It empowers the parliament and the state legislatures to establish tribunals for adjudication of disputes related to matters of taxation, foreign exchange, industry and labour, land reforms, elections to parliament and state legislature, rent and tenancy Rights, etc.
        • The tribunals perform an important and specialised role in the justice mechanism. They take a load off the already overburdened courts. They hear disputes related to the environment, armed forces, tax and administrative issues.

    Source: TH