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A bill that is thrifty, goes by the book

Merger of tribunals in the Finance Bill will lead to uniformity in rules of service, prevent overlap and save taxpayers’ money

Written by Ravi Shankar Prasad | Published: April 20, 2017 12:27 am
parliament, budget session, parliament bills, budget session bills, parliament news, india news For some time, the functioning of a large number of tribunals had been a matter of public debate.

The Finance Bill, 2017, has faced criticism from some quarters, based on the decision to rationalise numerous tribunals, many of which have overlapping functions, and come at a significant cost. The government has also been criticised for choosing to usher in these reforms through the Money Bill route. The fact is, the reforms will promote good governance and have been undertaken within the legal, constitutional and parliamentary framework.

Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, the NDA government has initiated significant reforms including the promotion of e-courts, the establishment of commercial courts and the formation of Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division in high courts through legislation in 2015. It has brought amendments to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act,1996, formulated the National Litigation Policy, LIMBS (digital monitoring of court cases) and set up a High Level Committee under Justice B.N. Srikrishna on arbitration in addition to infrastructure support to the courts to ease their logjam.

For some time, the functioning of a large number of tribunals had been a matter of public debate. Concerns were expressed over rationalising their functioning and having uniform terms and conditions, including salaries and allowances. Thirty-six tribunals, which have been studied by the Indian Law Institute and several other committees, were called to be rationalised and merged. The finance minister’s Budget speech announcement — “Over the years, the number of tribunals have multiplied with overlapping functions. We propose to rationalise the number of tribunals and merge tribunals wherever appropriate” — aims at achieving those aspirations. The salary structure was also proposed to be rationalised while providing for uniform service conditions. Accordingly, it was made a Finance Bill to achieve merger/rationalisation for faster adjudication.

Disputes involving the determination of rights between state and citizens — which the traditional judicial system was not equipped to cope with after new forms of litigation — led to the establishment of tribunals as a stop-gap arrangement. Various aspects, along with merits and demerits, worldwide practices, the relationship of tribunals in different Articles of the Constitution, were comprehensively examined for the first time by the first Law Commission of India in its 12th report titled “Income Tax Act, 1922”(1958), followed by its 14th report titled “Reform of Judicial Administration” (1958), its 58th report “Structure and Jurisdiction of the Higher Judiciary” (1974), its 124th report “The High Court Arrears — A Fresh Look” (1988), its 162nd report “Review of Functioning of Central Administrative Tribunal; Customs, Excise and Gold (Control) Appellate Tribunal and Income-tax Appellate Tribunal” (1988) and its 215th report “L. Chandra Kumar be revisited by Larger Bench of Supreme Court”(2008).

With respect to a Money Bill, after it is passed by the Lok Sabha, it is transmitted to the Rajya Sabha for its recommendations. If the bill is returned by the Rajya Sabha with recommendations, the Lok Sabha may accept or reject all or any of these. If the Lok Sabha accepts any recommendations, the bill is deemed to have been passed by both Houses. If the Lok Sabha does not accept any recommendations, the Money Bill is deemed to have been passed by both Houses in the form in which it was passed by the Lok Sabha without any amendments recommended by the Rajya Sabha.

In the case of the Finance (No.2) Bill, 1977 and the Finance Bill, 1978, recommendations made by the Rajya Sabha were not accepted by the Lok Sabha on August 2, 1977 and May 11, 1978 respectively. In the Finance Bill, 2017 as well, amendments suggested by the Rajya Sabha were not accepted by the Lok Sabha. The bills were deemed to have been passed by the Houses in the form these were passed by the Lok Sabha, and sent for presidential assent. There is a proper constitutional mechanism laying down the procedure and conditions under which the Speaker of the Lok Sabha declares a bill to be a Money Bill. The celebrated Speaker, G.V. Mavalankar himself ruled that anything incidental to a Money Bill will also be treated as a Money Bill.

Besides 19 reports relating to arrears and backlogs of court cases, the power, privileges, functions and authority of different tribunals have been critically examined by the Supreme Court in cases including S.P. Sampath Kumar (1985), L. Chandra Kumar (1997), R.K. Jain (1993), R. Gandhi (2005) and Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Limited (2016). Keeping in view the objectives of rationalisation and, at the same time, to continue to resolve disputes through tribunals, it was thought expedient that some tribunals may be merged. In some cases — such as the Cyber Appellate Tribunal being merged with the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) — there is greater synergy and effective adjudication, besides saving a huge amount of tax payers’ money. The government was conscious of the need to reduce unnecessary expenditure, avoid overlapping jurisdiction and ensure optimum utilisation of resources. There was a lot of inconsistency earlier; now, the tenure, terms and conditions, eligibility, etc., of the chairperson, vice-chairperson and members will be uniform, as prescribed by the law itself as also the salary structure. The merger of tribunals, therefore, fulfills the assurances of the finance minister in the budget speech.


The writer is Union minister for Law and Justice

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  1. K
    K V K
    Apr 27, 2017 at 1:07 pm
    In my case, appeal was filed in 2011 by the Bank but the case was not heard and now the Tribunal is merged and abolished. I have no hope to get justice in my life and I will never receive back my hard earned money. We cannot appreciate the unusual step of abolishing a common man's Tribunal while saving a big tribunal where the Chairperson is a retired Supreme Court judge. The sinner is the Minister himself. A common man cannot object to what he thinks is an exercise of the power which has been polluted by oblique ends. The move is malice-laden-a perversion of State Power to satisfy the malefic appe e of a particular person-the Minister. It is goaded by extraneous considerations and perverse essment. Taking of a common man's opportunity to seek legal remedy is a serious matter and smaller the man more serious the matter. There has been an improper attempted to take away a citizen's right through the Finance Act. It is neither thrifty nor cons utional.
    1. K
      K V K
      Apr 27, 2017 at 12:31 pm
      In 2009 Rs 3Lakh were unauthorisely withdrawn from my account by internet I won the case before the adjudicating officer but the Bank filed appeal in Cyber Appellate Tribunal. Years rolled by but the Minister scuttled every effort to make it working. Now the Tribunal has been abolished. TDSAT is not abolished because big parties come before it. It is rightly said that smaller the man more serious the problem for him. Humble litigants like me were waiting in the queue hungry for justice when the Minister has blocked the poorer ones form getting speedy remedy. A common man in our poor Country cannot afford to approach the Supreme Court. Instead of thrifty the move is perversion of State power to satisfy the malefic appe e of the Minister. The move is based on perverse essment and absence of reasons. He has committed a double sin-one for the common man and one for the staff. State power has run haywire under statutory cover of Finance Act. Modi Ji please shift him from both IT & Law.
      1. S
        S R C
        Apr 28, 2017 at 1:04 pm
        Mr Ravi Shankar Parsad is ushering an era of five star Tribunals. He is not worried about the expenditure on these Tribunals which runs into crores of rupees on rent alone whether it is TDSAT or the Law Commission. How can he call his move as thrifty when a common man will spend higher fees and adherence to rigid procedure before the TDSAT. It will be intimidating to the ordinary public to represent before TDSAT as compared to the Cyber Tribunal. Respected PM are you listening-Kindly help the common man.
      2. A
        aman gupta
        Apr 25, 2017 at 2:26 pm
        The Minister is talking like a layman. He says that by merging the Cyber Appellate Tribunal with the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) __ there will be a saving of a huge amount of tax payer's money. Well, here are the facts __ the TDSAT is operating from Samrat Hotel where the rent itself is a whooping amount of Rs. 65Lakh Per Month. The appeal from TDSAT will go to the Supreme Court whereas the appeal from Cyber Appellant Tribunal goes to the High Court. As to how many people will be able to access the Supreme Court is anybody's guess. Tribunals are setup to provide justice in a more accessible way with a less formal procedure. All such objects will be lost by the said merger. On the one hand the Minister is talking about saving money but on the other his Law Commission is paying a rent of about Rs 1crore per month as a rent. He himself has emplo a retied person as Member Secretary in Law Commission without the approval of ACC.
        1. K
          Apr 25, 2017 at 5:21 pm
          Taking refuge under the Finance Act to amend Acts of Parliament is not going by the book or the cons ution. A Tribunal cannot be run as a credit and thrift society. For making uniform the service conditions it is not necessary to merge the Tribunal. The Government has a Digital India programme and the Hon'ble Minister himself is aware that the Cyber frauds are on rise. In the cir stances merging and abolishing the Cyber Appellate Tribunal will be a setback for the people and for the Government itself. The Government should think about the people who will now have to go to the Supreme Court to file an appeal. The Minister has given old and irrelevant data. For example the Supreme Court in Gujrat Urja Vikas Nigam Limited has not given any comments on the subject. Similarly, various reports of the Law Commission mentioned in the write-up do not touch the issue. Strangely various authorities such as authority on advanced ruling which even does not have any office has not been touched.
        2. P
          Apr 21, 2017 at 3:05 pm
          How can anything incidental to a Money Bill will also be treated as a Money Bill. Consider this, under Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (Prevention and Control) Bill the central and state governments are required to provide anti-retroviral therapy and infection management for persons with HIV or AIDS and obviously government to provide treatment shall make use of funds from CFI. Since this withdrawal of money from CFI is only incidental, should this bill be considered as Money Bill? It would be a derision on democracy.
          1. V
            Apr 20, 2017 at 9:32 pm
            It is distasteful for a few ex-judges heading tribunals, uming the tone of being judges of courts, while they are not equivalent of courts at all. These tribunals are uni-purpose vehicles of justice. While it is understandable for litigants harmed by tribunal judgements to speak out their ire, some of these exes who head the tribunals joining issues like street fighting children, like AAP guys, is highly condemnable. It is time for the centre to set right the record about tribunals being only quasi-judicial bodies. It is even surprising the tribunals claim contempt jurisdiction. Almost makes one believe the exes feel peeved they are not real judges of courts. One feels truly sorry for what came to p .
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