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The central government has informed the Supreme Court that it is having a rethink on the rules notified by it with regard to various tribunals, including the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT), which were challenged in a spate of petitions in the Apex Court and various High Courts.
While most petitions pertain to challenge to the new rules, the petition filed by Chandigarh-based advocate Navdeep Singh, a former President of the AFT Bar Association of the city, has also sought a roadmap for reforming tribunals and returning certain jurisdictions back to the regular courts, avoiding ‘excessive tribunalisation’ and rather strengthening the regular judiciary.
The petition has also pointed out that work in tribunals comes to a complete halt due to non-appointment of members but the work does not suffer in regular judiciary since the courts are never rendered completely non-functional due to shortage of judges. The petition states that while promulgating the rules, the officers concerned have acted diametrically opposite to the views of the political executive who had made statements favouring reform and independence of tribunals.
The Ministry of Finance, had, in June, notified new rules affecting the selection process and functioning of all tribunals which placed the quasi-judicial bodies under the control of the government and had greatly reduced their independence. The rules had placed all tribunals under those very ministries against which the tribunals were to pass orders and even the secretaries of such ministries were made to sit in the selection committees for selecting and reappointing adjudicating members.
Tenures of appointments had also been reduced and the central government had been granted the powers to hold inquiries and remove members of tribunals and even status and facilities of members had been lowered. Jurists had averred that all such actions were in contravention of law laid down by the SC and various HCs.
While the court was hearing a petition filed by the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) Bar Association, Attorney General KK Venugopal informed the three Judge Bench headed by the Chief Justice that the government will take steps to bring the rules in consonance with law laid down by the courts. He also said that he will submit suggestions within three weeks to this effect.
When pointed out the implication of the rules on tribunals other than CAT by Aishwarya Bhati, the counsel representing Navdeep Singh, the bench directed that the affidavit to be filed by the government should cover all tribunals and not just CAT.