Terming non-filling of vacancies at various tribunals a very sorry state of affairs, the Supreme Court Friday asked the Centre to apprise it within ten days about the steps taken and said it suspects some lobbies have been working in this regard. We must know a clear stand on continuation of tribunals or closing of tribunals. It appears that bureaucracy does not want these tribunals, said a bench comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justice Surya Kant.
The top court was ready with all the details of pending vacancies, provided by the apex court’s registry in 15 quasi-judicial bodies such as Debt Recovery Tribunals (DRTs), DRAT, Securities Appellate Tribunal, TDSAT, NCLT and NCLAT. There are 19 vacant positions of presiding officers or the chairman in these tribunals and besides them, 110 and 111 posts of judicial and technical members respectively are vacant, the bench said, adding that this cannot be allowed to continue. The bench said it may summon the top officials to give reasons for not appointing peoples in these quasi-judicial bodies. We expect in a week’s time you will take a call and apprise us. Otherwise we are very serious, we are going to force the top officers to appear and give reasons. Please do not invite such a situation, the bench observed.
The top court, in a hearing conducted through video conferencing, also issued a notice on a PIL filed by lawyer and activist Amit Sahni seeking constitution of National and Regional GST Tribunal. It was irked over the fact that the appellate tribunal as provided under the law on GST has not been set up even after the law came into force almost four years ago. The CGST act came into force about four years back, you have been unable to create any appellate tribunal at all," the bench said. Our Registry has provided the information that as many as 15 tribunals have been created. There are no chairpersons, CJI Ramana observed, adding that in the National Company Law Tribunal, there are vacancies of judicial and technical members.
The CJI said that he and Justice Surya Kant are both members of the selection panel and had recommended names in May 2020. The bench said many posts are vacant in AFT, NGT and Railways Claim Tribunal and no steps seem to be taken to fill these vacancies and termed it as the very sorry state of affairs.
This is the scenario in Tribunals. We do not know what the stand of the Government is. You have to get a response, if they want to continue these Tribunals, the bench said. “We have our own suspicion, some lobbies have been working to not fill these vacancies, it added.
Appointments to these tribunals can be made subject to pending litigations, but the litigants cannot be left remediless, the bench said. If you don’t want Tribunals let them go to the high courts and if you want Tribunals then fill up vacancies, it added. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, sought some time for apprising the court on this matter and said there were some issues relating to the tenure and manner of appointment.
The bench said tribunals are the creations of the statutes and they provide their composition and procedures. Selection panels, mostly presided over by apex court judges, have recommended names for appointments to tribunals and many issues can be dealt with after the appointments, it said.
One of the pleas pertained to the Centre’s decision to transfer and attach the jurisdiction of the Debt Recovery Tribunal, Jabalpur to Debt Recovery Tribunal, Lucknow in the absence of availability of presiding officer at DRT Jabalpur. On this aspect, the law officer said that even the DRT at Lucknow is working through virtual mode.
Senior advocate Nidhesh Gupta referred to the bills on tribunals being discussed in Parliament and alleged that it was against the apex court’s judgement on the issue. We cannot stop the government from passing legislation and the government cannot stop us from passing orders…This is the duty of both institutions, the bench said.
As per the records of the apex court, in Debt Recovery Tribunals (DRTs), which were set up to recover bad loans of banks, there are 15 posts of Presiding officers vacant in the country and its appellate body, DRAT, does not have the Chairperson in Calcutta branch. The report also indicated that in most of the cases, the selection panels have recommended the names for appointments but they have not been acted upon. The Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT) has one vacant post for a technical member, it said, adding the Appellate Tribunal for Forfeited Property (ATFP) does not have the chairperson and one technical member. The Telecom Disputes and Settlement Appellate Tribunal [TDSAT] has to appoint two technical members, it said, adding the NCLT lacked one presiding officer, 19 judicial and 14 technical members respectively.
The appellate body, the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) does not have the chairperson and needs one judicial and technical member each to work at its optimum strength. While the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission has to get three technical members, the Appellate Tribunal for Electricity lacks one technical member.
Simultaneously, the Armed Forces Tribunals needed 13 judicial and ten technical members, it said, adding that the National Green Tribunals have 14 judicial and 16 technical members less presently. The Income Tax Appellate Tribunal has huge vacancies of 25 judicial and 27 technical members, it said.
Presently, the Railway Claims Tribunal needed 20 judicial and 5 technical members, the information provided by the apex court said. Sixteen technical members are to appointed in the Central Excise Service Tax Appellate Tribunal (CESTAT), it said, adding that the Central Administrative Tribunals have 18 judicial and 14 technical members less from the sanctioned strength. As per the report, the selection Committee in August last year had recommended four names for two posts of Members in TDSAT and likewise, the selection panel, in May 2020, had recommended names for 11 Judicial Members and 10 Technical Members as also wait list. It also referred to similar recommendations made with respect to other tribunals for considering the eligible persons for the appointment.