tribunals-what-are-they-significance-issues-and-way-forward

What are they ?

  • Tribunal is a quasi-judicial institution that is set up to deal with problems such as resolving administrative or tax-related disputes constituted with the objective of delivering speedy, inexpensive and decentralised adjudication of disputes in various matters.
  • They are not originally a part of the Constitution of India rather introduced in 1985. 

Significance of Tribunal

  • The Tribunals were set up to reduce the 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.
  • The tribunals perform an important and specialised role in justice mechanism. They take a load off the already overburdened courts. They hear disputes related to the environment, armed forces, tax and administrative issues.
  • To tackle the humongous pendency of cases in various Courts. 

Functions :

  • 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

Constitutional Provisions

  • Tribunals were incorporated in the Indian Constitution by 42nd Amendment Act, 1976 in recommendations of Swarn Singh Committee.
    • Article 323-A deals with Administrative Tribunals.
    • Article 323-B deals with tribunals for other matters.
  • Under Article 323 B, the Parliament and the state legislatures are authorised to provide for the establishment of tribunals for the adjudication of disputes relating to the following matters:
    • Taxation
    • Foreign exchange, import and export
    • Industrial and labour
    • Land reforms
    • Ceiling on urban property
    • Elections to Parliament and state legislatures
    • Food stuff
    • Rent and tenancy rights
  • Articles 323 A and 323 B differ in the following three aspects:
    • While Article 323 A contemplates the establishment of tribunals for public service matters only, Article 323 B contemplates the establishment of tribunals for certain other matters (mentioned above).
    • While tribunals under Article 323 A can be established only by Parliament, tribunals under Article 323 B can be established both by Parliament and state legislatures with respect to matters falling within their legislative competence.
    • Under Article 323 A, only one tribunal for the Centre and one for each state or two or more states may be established. There is no question of the hierarchy of tribunals, whereas under Article 323 B a hierarchy of tribunals may be created.

Administrative Tribunals

  • Administrative Tribunals was set-up by an act of Parliament, Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 under Article 323 A of the Constitution.
  • It adjudicates disputes and complaints with respect to recruitment and conditions of service of persons appointed to the public service and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union and the States.
  • The Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 provides for three types of tribunals:
    • The Central Government establishes an administrative tribunal called the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT).
    • The Central Government may, upon receipt of a request in this behalf from any State Government, establish an administrative tribunal for such State employees.
    • Two or more States might ask for a joint tribunal, which is called the Joint Administrative Tribunal (JAT), which exercises powers of the administrative tribunals for such States.
  • There are tribunals for settling various administrative and tax-related disputes, including Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT), Customs, Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal (CESTAT), National Green Tribunal (NGT), Competition Appellate Tribunal (COMPAT) and Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT), among others.

Advantages : 

  1. They offer flexibility when compared to ordinary courts that have to adhere to strict procedures.
  2. Tackle the pendency of cases. 
  3. They are cheaper and offer speedy justice.
  4. The procedure followed by the tribunals is simple and easy to understand even for the layman.
  5. They also offer relief to the ordinary courts that are already over-burdened with suits.

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Difference between Court and Tribunal 

Central Administrative Tribunal

  • It has jurisdiction to deal with service matters pertaining to the Central Government employees or of any Union Territory, or local or other government under the control of the Government of India, or of a corporation owned or controlled by the Central Government.
  • The CAT was set-up on 1 November 1985.
  • It has 17 regular benches, 15 of which operate at the principal seats of High Courts and the remaining two at Jaipur and Lucknow.
  • These Benches also hold circuit sittings at other seats of High Courts. The tribunal consists of a Chairman, Vice-Chairman and Members.
    • The Members are drawn, both from judicial as well as administrative streams so as to give the Tribunal the benefit of expertise both in legal and administrative spheres.
  • The appeals against the orders of an Administrative Tribunal shall lie before the Division Bench of the concerned High Court.

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State Administrative Tribunal

  • Article 323 B empowers the state legislatures to set up tribunals for various matters like levy, assessment, collection and enforcement of any of the tax matters connected with land reforms covered by Article 31A.

Issues : 

  1. Against the separation of powers: It is seen as encroachment of judicial branch by the government.
  2. They operate under parent administrative ministries remaining at their mercy for facilities, infrastructure and also rule-making.
  3. Appeal:  Administrative tribunals were originally set up to provide specialized justice delivery and to reduce the burden of caseloads on regular courts. However, appeals from tribunals have inevitably managed to enter the mainstream judicial system also held In the Chandra Kumar case (1997), by the Supreme Court had held that appeals against the orders of a tribunal could be made in the High Court. 
  4. High Pendency: Many tribunals also do not have adequate infrastructure to work smoothly and perform the functions originally envisioned leading to high pendency rates thus proving unfruitful to deliver quick justice.
  5. Appointments: Appointments to tribunals are usually under the control of the executive. Thus there is clear conflict of interest.
  6. The secretary of the said Ministry is on the panel for selecting and reappointing the adjudicating members of Tribunal and also has a role to play in disciplinary committees. For instance, the defence secretary is a part of the committee for selection and re-appointment of members of the Armed Forces Tribunal
  7. There is a lack of information available on the functioning of tribunals. Websites are routinely non-existent, unresponsive or not updated.
  8. There is a lack of autonomy in the appointment and funding of tribunals
  9. Accessibility is low due to scant geographic availability and lack of infrastructure for the tribunals to function efficiently.

Way Forward 

  • Appointment : Appointments to members should be apolitical it should be done by an impartial and independent selection committee. 
  • Autonomy: Tribunals should be provided due autonomy with proper funding mechanisms. 
  • Qualifications: In Union of India vs. R. Gandhi (2010), the Supreme Court looked at the working of tribunals closely. It said that when the existing jurisdiction of a court is transferred to a tribunal, its members should be persons of a rank, capacity and status as nearly as possible equal to the rank, status and capacity of the court.
  • Accessibility: Tribunals must have benches in different parts so as to ensure that they are accessible.
  • Independence: The administrative support for all Tribunals should be from the Ministry of Law & Justice. Neither the Tribunals nor its members shall seek or be provided with facilities from the respective sponsoring or parent Ministries or concerned Department.

Moreover , Central government under The Finance Act of 2017 merged eight tribunals according to functional similarity.

The bill also empowers the Central government to lay down the rules for appointment of tribunal members across a cross section of tribunal. Some of the prominent tribunals include the Income tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT), Central Excise and Service Tax Tribunal (CESTAT), Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT), National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT), and Authorities for Advance Rulings (AAR)

Tribunals - Manifest IAS