The Supreme Court, on Monday, issued notice on a Petition challenging the Constitutional validity of provisions of the Finance Act, 2017 which confer "unbridled and unguided powers to the Central Government" to provide for qualifications and conditions of service of members of various tribunals, especially the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC). The matter has now been listed for 8 December.
The Petition, filed by Retd. IAS Officer Mr. Gokul Patnaik , challenges Section 177 and Sections 182 to 186 of the Act, as well as the Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal and other Authorities (Qualifications, Experience and Other Conditions of Service of Members) Rules, 2017.
Among other things, these provisions enable the executive, rather than the Parliament to decide the qualification, appointment, terms of office, salaries and allowances, resignation and removal of the Tribunal’s Chairperson, Judicial Member and Expert Member.
This, it says, infringes upon the doctrine of separation of powers and undermines the "independence and autonomous functioning of the Commission and make justice inefficacious and inaccessible to the citizens of the nation."
It further contends that the impugned Rules are "an abdication by Parliament of its essential legislative function" by delegating the power to specify the minimum qualifications and procedure for appointment of the President or Chairperson of the Tribunals to the Centre. Such qualifications, it says, should be provided in the parent Acts constituting the Tribunals and their prescription cannot be delegated to the executive.
Furthermore, the Petition alleges that the Rules have "severely diluted" the minimum qualifications for appointment of members to the Tribunals, "such that there is a clear and present danger of persons being appointed as the Chairperson of Commission who have no judicial or even legal training and experience, and of persons without significant technical and scientific knowledge being appointed as Expert Members..."
With respect to the NCDRC, it contends, "It is submitted that the impugned Rules make NCDRC subservient to the executive and are thus defective and unconstitutional, being in breach of basic principles of Rule of Law, Separation of Powers and Independence of the Judiciary. Moreover, the impugned Act gives the Central Government unbridled power to appoint and remove President and members of NCDRC."
The Petition, thereby, seeks quashing of a circular issued by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs in July this year for filling up seven vacant NCDRC posts in accordance with the Rules.