September 17, 2021 1:51:54 am
Upset over the manner in which services of the acting chairperson of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) had been terminated and the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021, invoked to name a replacement, Chief Justice of India N V Ramana warned the government Thursday that the Supreme Court may just stay the new Act.
The CJI made the remark – “Then we will have to suo motu stay your legislation” – when the court was informed by Attorney General K K Venugopal that a new appointment to the post of the acting chairperson of NCLAT had been made on the basis of his legal opinion in the wake of the new Act.
Incidentally, the Supreme Court has already issued notice on petitions challenging the Act.
The CJI’s warning came during the hearing of a petition by NCLAT acting chief Justice Iqbal Singh Cheema who had challenged the curtailment of his tenure by 10 days – he was to retire on September 20.
On Thursday, when the petition came up, Venugopal conveyed the government’s readiness to reinstate Justice Cheema so that he completes his full term on September 20, the date of retirement “on paper”.
Venugopal said this can be treated as continued service and Justice Cheema will be entitled to all retirement benefits. He, however, said that since a new acting chairperson, Justice M Venugopal, had already been appointed, it would be awkward if Justice Cheema too were to return to office.
But the bench did not seem to agree. “You (government) are responsible for the situation,” the CJI said, adding “I read somewhere that he (Justice Cheema) has reserved some judgments. If you suddenly retire him, there will be a problem in re-hearing those cases. The way in which this order (has been) passed is awkward. How fair is it?”.
The AG replied the fresh appointment was made on the basis of his legal opinion in the light of the Tribunals Reform Act, 2021.
“Then we will have to suo motu stay your legislation,” the CJI said. The AG said in that case, he was ready to argue the matter on the question of stay.
Intervening, Justice Surya Kant asked whether it was possible for the new appointee to go on leave for a few days so that Justice Cheema could complete his term and finish pending work.
The AG said he will have to take instructions. Returning later, Venugopal informed the bench the government had agreed to allow Justice Cheema to continue until September 20 and the new appointee would go on leave until then. “I have taken instructions. Petitioner said he took leave from August 31st to 10th September to write judgments and pronounce them before 20th. So he may be reinstated for the purpose of pronouncing judgments and existing gentleman will be asked to go on leave,” the AG told the bench which welcomed it and said the “Attorney General solved the problem. We thank you for this”.
Disposing the petition, the bench, however, clarified that “the instant order has been passed taking into consideration the peculiar facts and circumstances of the present facts and this shall not be treated as a precedent”.
Govt notifies tribunal rules
New Delhi: The central government Thursday notified the Tribunal (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2021 amidst a standoff with Supreme Court over the legality of the rules. The Tribunal Reforms Act, 2021, passed in Lok Sabha on August 2 and in Rajya Sabha on August 9, apart from abolishing at least seven appellate tribunals under various statutes, has provisions relating to the tenure, age criteria, and search-cum-selection committee for tribunal appointments. These provisions, which alter the process of appointment of tribunal members, were earlier brought in through the Tribunals Reforms (Rational-isation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021. A bench led by CJI N V Ramana has questioned the government over the enactment of a new law dealing with the tenure and criteria for selection of members of tribunals despite the court striking down some provisions dealing with the same in an earlier ordinance. —ENS
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