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Posted at: Feb 10, 2018, 1:55 AM; last updated: Feb 10, 2018, 1:26 PM (IST)

SC stays new rules on working of tribunals

Agrees with suggestion for interim selection panel under CJI
SC stays new rules on working of tribunals

Vijay Mohan

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, February 9

Putting on hold new rules that gave the government greater powers in appointing and fixing the service conditions of members of various tribunals, the Supreme Court today ordered that the selection and term of tribunal members will be as per the old rules.

In an interim order, a Bench comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud accepted several suggestions by the petitioners, that included staying composition of the search-cum-selection committee for chairman and judicial and administrative members of tribunals, and staying the new term of office of three years — fixing it at five years instead. 

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The apex court agreed with the suggestion to constitute an interim selection committee with the Chief Justice of India or his nominee as chairman and that the appointment to the post shall be made through nomination by the Chief Justice.

Attorney General (AG) KK Venugopal said he had no objection if the suggestions were made applicable to all tribunals as an interim measure. There are 19 tribunals in the country, such as the Central Administrative Tribunal, Armed Forces Tribunal, National Green Tribunal and Income Tax Appellate Tribunal.

The petitioners suggested that all selections and appointments by the interim committee should be with the conditions of service as applicable to judges of the High Court. And that such appointments for a term of five years with conditions of service as applicable to judges of the High Court should not be affected by the final outcome of the writ petition. 

The AG, however, submitted that the two suggestions should be recast to read “service conditions to be as per old Acts and rules” and the term of service of members also be as per old rules.

The Bench accepted the submissions. Legal experts say the service conditions/terms of a few tribunals vary.

In June 2017, the Ministry of Finance had notified new rules affecting the selection process and functioning of all tribunals. A section of the legal fraternity had contended that these placed the quasi-judicial bodies under the control of the government and were administered by those very ministries against which the tribunals were to pass orders, thereby reducing their independence. 

The tenures of appointment had also been reduced and the Centre had been granted the powers to hold inquiries and remove members and even the status and facilities had been lowered. Jurists had averred that all such measures were in contravention of the law laid down by the SC and  HCs. The emoluments of members were also reduced from that of a High Court judge to Class-I officer.

A bunch of petitions that came up for hearing today have been tagged along with other petitions — a PIL by the Madras High Court Bar Association and by Chandigarh lawyer Navdeep Singh — that are being heard by a five-judge Constitution Bench. 

GIST of the matter

  • Earlier, members of a tribunal were appointed by a committee comprising the CJI’s nominee, two secretaries and chairman of the tribunal concerned
  • The petitioners have questioned whether a provision vesting in the government the powers to merge tribunals and appoint members, denying CJI any say, could be brought by way of Finance Bill
  • The petitioners say the provision brought through the 2017 Finance Act is violative of the doctrine of separation of powers and the principle of independence of judiciary


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