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Cannot Remain Oblivious To Plight Of Litigants: Kerala High Court Extends Term Of Present Judicial Members Of State Administrative Tribunal

Hannah M Varghese
16 July 2021 5:45 AM GMT
Cannot Remain Oblivious To Plight Of Litigants: Kerala High Court Extends Term Of Present Judicial Members Of State Administrative Tribunal
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'The role of the Court in such a situation is to invoke the most pertinent ideal Rule of law and to control over uncertainty created,' the Court remarked.

The Kerala High Court on Thursday extended the term of the present judicial members in the Kerala Administrative Tribunal, permitting them to continue to hold their offices subject to the upper ceiling age of 65 years, to avoid the functioning of the Tribunal coming to a standstill. A Division Bench of Justice A Muhamed Mustaque and Justice Kauser Edappagath while passing this...

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The Kerala High Court on Thursday extended the term of the present judicial members in the Kerala Administrative Tribunal, permitting them to continue to hold their offices subject to the upper ceiling age of 65 years, to avoid the functioning of the Tribunal coming to a standstill. 

A Division Bench of Justice A Muhamed Mustaque and Justice Kauser Edappagath while passing this interim order observed  as follows:

"We cannot remain oblivious to the plight of the litigants. If the present situation is allowed to continue, it will result in the collapse of the justice delivery system. The role of the Court in such a situation is to invoke the most pertinent ideal Rule of law and to control over uncertainty created. Access to justice is not a mere Constitutional ideal, it forms part of the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution."

The Court passed the interim order in a writ petition filed by the KAT Advocates Association and a practicing lawyer Vazhuthacadu Narendran.

The KAT Association had moved the High Court last month seeking expeditious conclusion of the proceedings for the appointment of a Chairman to the Tribunal and steps be taken to fill the anticipated vacancies of the Judicial Members. Senior Advocate Ranjith Thampan appeared on behalf of the petitioners. 

It was brought to the attention of the Court that the office of the Chairman has been vacant since 15th September 2020 and that the recommendation for appointment is still pending with the Centre. The Court had thereby given the Centre three weeks to come to conclusion through a previous interim order, which was extended further by three more weeks upon request. Accordingly, the Centre was to inform its decision on 14th July. However, the proceedings for the same are still underway. 

This was of grave significance for the reason that the term of the two Judicial members in KAT is due to expire on 19th July. Although the Government Pleader submitted that the last date for submitting an application for such an appointment was 23rd July, the Counsel for petitioners apprehended that the operation of the Tribunal could come to a halt upon the expiry of the term of its Judicial Members and thereby pressed for an interim order. 

The Court found that since the present Judicial Members were first term appointees, there was no legal bar in further extending their term as provided under Section 8(2) of the Tribunals Act. Since such extension is in contemplation of the statutory rule itself, it was observed that the Bench only had to endeavour to uphold the very spirit and essence of the statute. 

The Division Bench further noticed that the very idea of increasing the member strength of the Tribunal from two to six was on account of the fact that a large number of cases were being filed before the Tribunal. The rule-making authority was very conscious that the functioning of the Tribunal should not come to a grinding halt on account of the delay in the appointment of the members. As such, it remarked thus:

'We cannot remain oblivious to the plight of the litigants. If the present situation is allowed to continue, it will result in the collapse of the justice delivery system. The role of the Court in such a situation is to invoke the most pertinent ideal Rule of law and to control over uncertainty created. Access to justice is not a mere Constitutional ideal, it forms part of the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.' 

Accordingly, an interim order was granted to permit the Judicial Members to continue, subject to their upper ceiling age of 65 years under the statutory provisions till the appointment of the Chairman or till replacement of them by new members, whichever is earlier.

Brief Synopsis Leading to the Litigation

Two petitions were filed before the Court seeking similar reliefs, one by the KAT Ernakulam Advocates Association and another by the KAT Advocates' Association. 

The Public Interest Litigations elaborated on how the Kerala Administrative Tribunal (KAT) consists of at least one judicial and one administrative member. At present, there are three Division Benches in the Tribunal, out of which the term of two administrative members has already expired. The term of the Chairman also expired on 05.09.2020 and these posts have been vacant ever since.

Therefore, on expiry of the term of the present Judicial Members, the Tribunal has to function with a single Administrative Member without any Judicial Members from 20/7/2021 onwards.

Since the Tribunal cannot hold sitting without Judicial Members, the entire adjudicatory functions of the KAT will come to a standstill. Yet regrettably, it was contended that no orders were passed extending the term of these judicial members.

This could potentially jeopardize the interest of the entire litigant public who move the Tribunal for redressal of their grievances regarding "service matters", according to the petition, the petitioners had submitted.

The petitioners argued that the delay in the appointment of the Chairman resulted in the present stalemate regarding the extension of the term of Judicial members of the Tribunal. 

The Assistant Solicitor General responded that extension of the term of appointment of the Members is possible only when the Chairman is in Office and that the delay in the appointment of Chairman was due to administrative exigencies.

Case Title: Kerala Administrative Tribunal v. Union of India

Click Here To Read/Download Interim Order


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