The Supreme Court on Tuesday clarified that members of Customs, Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal (CESTAT) can continue to hold office until the age of 62 years.
The order was issued by a Bench comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud while disposing of an Intervention and Clarification Application filed by Rajesh Kumar Singh (Additional District and Sessions Judge, West Bengal). Mr. Singh was recently appointed as Member (Judicial) in CESTAT, New Delhi.
In his application, filed through AoR Rahul Jain, Mr. Singh had demanded clarification with regard to the Supreme Court’s observation in Kudrat Sandhu v. Union Of India, wherein the Court had ruled that the tenure of the Chairperson and the Judicial/Administrative/Expert/Technical Members of all the Tribunals shall be for a period of five years or the maximum age that was fixed/determined under the old Acts and Rules.
He had now alleged that the authorities had interpreted the direction to mean that the tenure of a person appointed to the tribunals shall be restricted to 5 years or the date of retirement, “whichever is earlier”, adding the last few words which were not present in the Supreme Court’s direction.
He had further submitted, “…as per the old Acts/Rules, the age of superannuation for Members (Judicial) is the same in cases of ITAT and CESTAT, that is, 62 years. This Hon’ble Court has not specifically made a clarification as regards the age of superannuation of Member (Judicial) in CESTAT, as it did for appointments to ITAT. This has resulted into confusion and misinterpretation of this Hon’ble Court’s Order dated 20.03.2018 by Ministry of Finance.”
Agreeing with such contentions, the Supreme Court now clarified, “It would be manifestly inappropriate to adopt an interpretation as a result of which, upon assuming office as Member (Judicial) in CESTAT the officer will have a tenure which will expire after five years, if it falls prior to attaining the age of 62 years.
We, accordingly, are of the view that the clarification issued for the ITAT in the order dated 20 March 2018 needs to be reiterated in the case of the members of the CESTAT, which we do. We clarify that a person selected as Member of the CESTAT will continue until the age of 62 years while a person holding the post of President shall continue until the age of 65 years.”
The Court further clarified that members of the Armed Forces Tribunal shall hold office until the attainment of the age of 65 years, and that Chairpersons who have been former Judges of the Supreme Court shall hold office until the attainment of the age of 70 years.
Furthermore, it clarified that in case of the Central Administrative Tribunal, the old rules/provisions shall continue to apply.
The Centre was thereafter directed to file a status report before the court within two weeks, setting out the position with respect to each Tribunal, including the vacancies and the stage of the selection process.
Responding to the clarification, Advocate Ashish Goel said: “The Supreme Court has made a much-needed clarification on the age of retirement of CESTAT Members. Though earlier Orders of the Supreme Court in the Kudrat Sandhu case were self-explanatory, the Finance Ministry proceeded to appoint newly appointed CESTAT Members for five years (as per the new Appointment Rules), which is clearly contrary to what the Supreme Court had said. The Supreme Court’s clarification will bring relief to all those who have been recently appointed to CESTAT and other Tribunals.”
Read the Order Here