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Restructuring the Tribunals System - National Tribunals Commission

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May 17, 2021

What is the issue?

  • The Centre has passed the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance 2021.
  • With the ordinance being challenged in the Supreme Court, here is an overview on its various elements.

What is the objective?

  • Through the ordinance, the Centre has abolished several appellate tribunals and authorities.
  • It has transferred their jurisdiction to other existing judicial bodies.
  • The tribunals abolished include the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal.

What are the concerns?

  • The Ordinance has met with sharp criticism for bypassing the usual legislative process.
  • It was also passed without any stakeholder consultation.
  • No judicial impact assessment was conducted prior to abolishing the tribunals.
  • This goes against the Supreme Court’s direction in Rojer Mathew v. South Indian Bank (2019).
  • The Ordinance has incorporated the suggestions made in Madras Bar Association v. Union of India (2020).
  • This applies to the composition of a search-cum-selection committee and its role in disciplinary proceedings.
  • But, the ordinance has also fixed a four-year tenure for Chairpersons and members of tribunals.
  • This has disregarded the court’s direction for fixing a five-year term.
  • Further, the Centre is yet to constitute a National Tribunals Commission (NTC).
  • The idea of an NTC was first mooted in L. Chandra Kumar v. Union of India (1997), but it has still not been constituted.

What is the NTC and what are its roles and responsibilities?

  • The NTC would ideally take on some duties relating to administration and oversight.
  • It could set performance standards for the efficiency of tribunals and their own administrative processes.
  • Importantly, it could function as an independent recruitment body.
  • This is to develop and operationalise the procedure for disciplinary proceedings and appointment of tribunal members.
  • Giving the NTC the authority to set members’ salaries, allowances, and other service conditions, subject to regulations, would help maintain tribunals’ independence.
  • Administrative roles of the NTC include providing support services to tribunal members, litigants, and their lawyers.
  • For this purpose, it would need to be able to hire and supervise administrative staff.
  • It will also have to consolidate, improve, and modernise tribunals’ infrastructure.

What is the significance of NTC?

  • A key rationale for demanding the NTC is the need for an authority to support uniform administration across all tribunals.
  • The NTC could therefore pave the way for the separation of the administrative and judicial functions carried out by various tribunals.
  • A ‘corporatised’ structure of NTC with a Board, a CEO and a Secretariat will allow it to scale up its services.
  • It could thus provide requisite administrative support to all tribunals across the country.

Why is legal backing for NTC essential?

  • Developing an independent oversight body for accountable governance requires a legal framework that protects its independence and impartiality.
  • Where the institutional design is not properly conceived, partisan interests can twist the law to serve political or private interests.
  • In India, executive interference in the functioning of tribunals is often seen in matters of appointment and removal of tribunal members.
  • It is also evident in provision of finances, infrastructure, personnel and other resources required for day-to-day functioning of the tribunals.
  • Therefore, the NTC must be established vide a constitutional amendment.
  • Or, it should be backed by a statute that guarantees it functional, operational and financial independence.

What is the way forward?

  • As the Finance Ministry has been vested with the responsibility for tribunals until the NTC is constituted, it should come up with a transition plan.
  • Establishing the NTC will definitely entail a radical restructuring of the present tribunals system.

 

Source: The Hindu

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