Updated: September 7, 2021 9:00:43 am
The Supreme Court on Monday pulled up the Centre over the delay in making appointments to various Tribunals, and for enacting a new law on the selection and tenure of Tribunal members despite the court having quashed similar provisions earlier.
The court said the government was testing its patience, and seemed to have no respect for its rulings.
“We have earlier heard these matters and passed detailed judgments. There is no respect for the judgments of this court, that is what we are feeling. There is testing the patience of the court…,” Chief Justice of India N V Ramana, heading a three-judge Bench with Justices L Nageswara Rao and D Y Chandrachud, told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
During the course of the hearing, the CJI said: “They are bent upon not respecting the judgment of the court. This much is very clear. We have only three options left now — one is staying the legislation or whatever the Act that you have made and directing you, or close down the Tribunals and give the powers to the High Court to take up the matters, and third is we ourselves will appoint the people.”
He added that “we could consider initiating proceedings for contempt of court”.
Mehta initially urged the court to defer the hearing as Attorney General K K Venugopal, who has been dealing with the Tribunals’ matter in the past, had some personal difficulty for a few days.
Turning down the prayer, the CJI said, “No, sorry. Last time, we made it very clear.” The court had set up a special Bench to deal with the matter, disturbing two other Benches, he said.
The CJI reminded the SG that on the last date of hearing, he had made a statement that some persons had been appointed — on Monday, he asked: “How many people have you appointed?”
Mehta responded that some appointments had been made to the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), and that he had received a letter from the Ministry of Finance that “wherever there is a recommendation, a decision on the appointment would be taken in two weeks”.
“That is the assurance which the government is giving,” he said.
Justice Rao pointed out that the recommendations were made more than an year ago as per the law prevailing then, but the appointments were yet to be made. “Some Tribunals are on the verge of closing down. They are functioning with one member. They are on the verge of extinction,” he said.
Justice Chandrachud referred to the vacancies at the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) and National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT).
“There is an outer limit of 330 days for completing the corporate insolvency resolution process. There is an SC judgment saying that except in exceptional circumstances, this is a mandatory period and companies have to go into liquidation. With the NCLT and NCLAT not being manned, a very critical situation has arisen,” Justice Chandrachud added, and pointed out that a similar situation prevails in the Armed Forces Tribunal as well.
Justice Chandrachud said that he headed the selection panel for the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC), and names were recommended after requisite clearance from the Intelligence Bureau — and yet, names had been deleted with no clarity as to why.
“You are emasculating these Tribunals by not appointing members,” Justice Rao observed.
The CJI referred to the Centre clearing all the nine names recommended by the SC collegium headed by himself within a few days. “We appreciated and everybody appreciated in the legal fraternity how you have appointed Supreme Court judges. We are very happy. We don’t want any confrontation with the process. But what about the members of Tribunals? These are small Tribunals. Some of them are very good like NGT, CAT, consumer commissions, NCLT. No chairpersons, no presidents, nothing. Virtually, it has collapsed.”
He asked whether the government had an alternative proposal, or whether it did not want the Tribunals.
The SG said that was not the intention of the government.
On the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021 promulgated last month, Justice Chandrachud said that Justice Rao, who headed the Bench that had struck down certain provisions related to the terms of services of the chairperson, vice-chairperson, and other members of Tribunals in the Tribunal Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021 in July this year, had said that the order was given after taking into account all the suggestions of the AG — “and in spite of that, they don’t honour the judgment. What is this?”
Appearing for Congress leader Jairam Ramesh who has filed a petition challenging the new Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021, Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the new law “re-enacts identical provisions which Justice Rao’s Bench had given reasons for striking down”.
The Bench told the SG it knows that he would never advise the government to enact legislation like this, and that it must be the advice of some bureaucrat.
“This is how bureaucracy functions, we understand. But the government has to take a call now. It is very serious. Although we are very much upset, that is all we want to say,” the CJI observed.
The court added, “we are not interested in any confrontation”. The SG responded: “Neither is the government…”
“We are listing it for next Monday. By that time, we expect appointments,” the court said, adding that it was also issuing notice on the challenge to the new law.
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