Tribunal reforms: what’s abolished, what happens to pending cases

Source: Indian Express

Relevance: Tribunals in India, Justice delivery 

Synopsis: Changes introduced by the Tribunals Reform Bill 2021. 

Context

The Supreme Court recently expressed its discontentment over the functioning of tribunals in the country. A Bench led by Chief Justice of India recently asked the government if it intends to shut down tribunals that have several key vacant posts. This came days after Lok Sabha passed the Tribunals Reform Bill to dissolve at least eight tribunals.

What is the Bill about?

The Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021 replaces a similar Ordinance promulgated in April 2021 that sought to dissolve eight tribunals that functioned as appellate bodies to hear disputes under various statutes, and transferred their functions to existing judicial forums such as a civil court or a High Court.

Why tribunals are being dissolved? 

Analysis of data of the last three years has shown that tribunals in several sectors have not necessarily led to faster justice delivery and costing more to the exchequer. This has led to the decision to rationalize the functioning of tribunals, a process that it began in 2015.

What are the tribunals that are being dissolved?

Among the key ones are the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) under the Cinematograph Act, 1952; the Intellectual Property Appellate Board under the Copyrights Act, 1957; and the Customs Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal.

Note: Cases pending before the dissolved tribunals will be transferred to High Courts or commercial civil courts immediately.

Salient features of the bill

Aims and objectives: The Bill provides for uniform pay and rules for the search and selection committees. The move brings greater accountability on the functioning of the tribunals. 

It states that the Chairpersons and Members of the tribunal being abolished shall cease to hold office. It also proposes changes in the process of appointment of certain other tribunals. 

It states that the central government shall, on the recommendation of the Search-cum-Selection Committee, remove from office any Chairperson or a Member, who— 

  • has been adjudged as an insolvent; or 
  • has been convicted of an offence which involves moral turpitude; or 
  • has become physically or mentally incapable of acting as such Chairperson or Member; or 
  • has acquired such financial or other interest as is likely to affect prejudicially his functions as such Chairperson or Member; or 
  • has so abused his position as to render his continuance in office prejudicial to the public interest. 

Constitution of Search-cum-Selection Committee: The Bill brings in the Chief Secretary of the state and the Chairman of the Public Service Commission of the concerned state who will have a vote and Secretary or Principal Secretary of the state’s General Administrative Department with no voting right. The Chief Justice of the High Court would head the committee, will not have a casting vote. 

However, experts fear that the lack of specialization in regular courts could be detrimental to the decision-making process. 

 

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