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Tribunal Decisions Can Be Scrutinized Only By A Jurisdictional High Court : Supreme Court

Rashmi Bagri
6 Jan 2022 4:02 PM GMT
Tribunal Decisions Can Be Scrutinized Only By A Jurisdictional High Court  : Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court has held that any decision of a tribunal (inclusive of one passed under S. 25 of Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985) can only be scrutinized by a High Court which has territorial jurisdiction over the tribunal in question. "All decisions of tribunals created under Article 323A and 323B of the Constitution will be subject to the scrutiny before a Division Bench of the...

The Supreme Court has held that any decision of a tribunal (inclusive of one passed under S. 25 of Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985) can only be scrutinized by a High Court which has territorial jurisdiction over the tribunal in question.

"All decisions of tribunals created under Article 323A and 323B of the Constitution will be subject to the scrutiny before a Division Bench of the High Court within whose jurisdiction the concerned tribunal falls",  the Court referred to the dictum laid down by the Constitution Bench in L Chandrakumar decision.

A bench of Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice C.T. Ravikumar was considering an appeal filed by the Union Government challenging a Calcutta High Court decision which had set aside an order passed by the Principal Bench of Central Administrative Tribunal located in New Delhi. And the court reiterated that

The facts of the case revolved around disciplinary proceedings initiated against the then Chief Secretary of State of West Bengal Alapan Bandyopadhyay on his failure to attend a review meeting chaired by the Prime Minister of India for assessing the loss of life and damage to infrastructure caused by the cyclone 'YAAS'. He challenged these disciplinary proceedings before the Calcutta bench of Central Administrative Tribunal but on a request made by the appellant (central government), the Principal Bench of Central Administrative Tribunal in New Delhi transferred the original application filed by the respondent (the then Chief Secretary) from Calcutta CAT branch to New Delhi by exercising powers bestowed on the Chairman of the tribunal through S. 25 of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985.

Bandhopadhyay filed a writ petition before the Calcutta High Court challenging the transfer order passed by the CAT Principal Bench. The Calcutta High Court set aside the Principal Bench's order, against which the Union approached the Supreme Court.

As the power of the Chairman to transfer an original application from one bench to another bench (even while sitting at any other bench than the principal bench) became undisputed on a plain reading of S. 25 of Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 which talks about 'Power of Chairman to transfer cases from one bench to another, the apex court bench moved on to deciding the major question in this matter regarding whether High Court was right in its judicial review of the order passed by Chairman of Principal Bench of Central Administrative Tribunal situated in New Delhi.

The bench relied on the judgment of the apex court in L. Chandra Kumar v. Union of India which had held that "The power vested in the High Court to exercise judicial superintendence over the decisions of all courts and tribunals within the respective jurisdictions is a part of the basic structure of the constitution. Decisions of Tribunals would be subjected to the High Court's Writ Jurisdiction under A.226/227 of the Constitution, before a division bench of High Court within whose territorial jurisdiction the particular tribunal falls."

The High Court had allowed the writ petition by holding that a part of the cause of action had arisen within its jurisdiction and hence it had jurisdiction under Article 226(2) of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court faulted this approach of the High Court by noting that it was contrary to the dictum of the Constitution Bench in L Chandrakumar. The judgment authored by Justice Ravikumar held :

"When once a Constitution Bench of this court declared the law that "all decisions of Tribunals created under Article 323A and Article 323B of the Constitution will be subject to the scrutiny before a Division Bench of the High Court within whose jurisdiction the concerned Tribunal falls", it is impermissible to make any further construction on the said issue

The law thus declared by the Constitution Bench cannot be revisited by a Bench of lesser quorum or for that matter by the High Courts by looking into the bundle of facts to ascertain whether they would confer territorial jurisdiction to the High Court within the ambit of Article 226(2) of the Constitution. We are of the considered view that taking another view would undoubtedly result in indefiniteness and multiplicity in the matter of jurisdiction in situations when a decision passed under Section 25 of the Act is to be called in question especially in cases involving multiple parties residing within the jurisdiction of different High Courts albeit aggrieved by one common order passed by the Chairman at the Principal Bench at New Delhi".

The bench after emphasizing that decisions of tribunals inclusive of decisions passed under S.25 of Administrative Tribunals Act, 1875, can only be subjected to scrutiny by a High Court that has territorial jurisdiction over the tribunal concerned, further observed that, "this unambiguous exposition of law has to be followed scrupulously while deciding the jurisdictional High Court to bring in challenge against an order of transfer of an original application from one bench of Tribunal to another bench."

The bench also made it clear that the High Court, "perfectly understood and treated the order impugned before it in the writ petition as an order passed by the Principal Bench of the tribunal at New Delhi" and thus, the High Court should have "confined its consideration to decide its own territorial jurisdiction for exercising the power of judicial review over this order."

Thus, the bench declared that the High Court at Calcutta had usurped its jurisdiction in setting aside the order passed by the Central Administrative Tribunal, New Delhi and hence declared its order void ab initio and continued to set it aside. However, the bench gave liberty to the respondent to challenge the order of the Central Administrative Tribunal before the High Court that had the territorial jurisdiction on the same.

The appeal was thus, allowed. The Court however granted liberty to Bandyopadhyay to approach the jurisdictional High Court challenging the Tribunal's order.

Case Title: Union of India v. Alapan Bandyopadhyay

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 12

Click Here To Read/Download Judgment





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