SC Tags Together All Pleas Challenging Finance Act Alterations For Joint Hearing

The Supreme Court has tagged together all petitions challenging the alterations brought about by the union government in the Finance Act, 2017,  which according to the petitioners is  aimed at affecting the independence of tribunals and interfering in the appointment of Chairman and members.

Issuing a notice to the Centre on a petition filed by National Green Tribunal Bar Association last week, a  bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra tagged it along with similar ones filed by Congress MP Jairam Ramesh, Sales Tax Bar Association and Revenue Bar Association.

Under the Finance Act that came into effect from April 1, 2017, the Ministry of Finance framed the Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal and other Authorities (Qualifications, Experience and other Conditions of Service of Members) Rules, 2017, which affected inter alia, the constitution, qualifications, appointment, removal and other terms and conditions of all the members of the 19 tribunals, including the NGT.

The PILs assert that the decision struck at the very root of the independence of these institutions and was an attempt to meddle with their orders.

PILs  term the move as a "naked attempt by the government to usurp judicial appointment power and encroach upon the independence of the judiciary, and thereby influence the administration of justice-something that was most recently struck down in the context of the 99th Amendment to the Constitution and the National Judicial Accountability Commission Act, 2015 (NJAC).

MP Jairam Ramesh had alleged it conferred “uncanalised power on Central government” and adversely affected functioning and independence of 19-odd tribunals including the National Green Tribunal.

Ramesh in his petition stated that Section 184 of the Act conferred upon the Central government “uncanalised and unguided power” to make service rules for providing qualifications, appointment, term of office, salary and allowances, resignation, removal and other terms and conditions of service of chairperson and other members of tribunal, appellate tribunal and other authorities specified in eighth schedule of the Act.

Urging the SC that the provision “suffers from vice of excessive delegation,” the Congress leader said that such modifications have diluted the qualification of NGT chairperson as earlier only a person who has been a judge of the Supreme Court or the chief justice of a high court was qualified to be the chairperson of NGT, but now under the 2017 Act even a non-judicial member or expert member could be the chairperson of NGT, which is a serious encroachment into the composition and functioning of NGT.