SC Takes Note Of “Depleting Strength” Of CAT, NCDRC; AG Asked To Take Instructions On Filling Up Vacancies

The Supreme Court today directed Attorney General K K Venugopal to take instruction from the Centre by Monday as to what it planned to do regarding filling of vacancies in Central Administrative Tribunal and National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.

The bench was told by senior advocates including P S Patwalia and Aryama Sundaram representing bar associations of various tribunals that there were 36 vacancies and the strength of NCDRC would be reduced to four.

The AG has been asked by a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra to take instructions on whether the appointments would be made on a priority basis as per the news rules or old rules and if present  members of CAT and NCDRC on the verge of retirement be allowed to continue for three more months till vacancies are filled up.

"In view of the nature of function of the tribunals, we enquired from the learned Attorney General whether it will be in the fitness of things to allow the adjudicator who are continuing in these two tribunals for a period of three months so that things can be brought under control. Learned Attorney General prays for time till 11th December, 2017, to obtain instruction for the said purpose. Be it noted, our suggestion is only in respect of N.C.D.R.C. and C.A.T. and nothing more"

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.

Read the Order Here