The Big Picture: Re-organization of tribunals- need and impact

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The Big Picture: Re-organization of tribunals- need and impact


 

In a large scale reform of tribunals, the Government recently sought to reduce the number of these quasi judicial bodies and bring parity in the service conditions of their officials. Among the better known tribunals;

  1. The Competition Appellate Tribunal will now be merged with the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal.
  2. The Cyber Appellate Tribunal and Airports Economic Regulatory Authority Appellate Tribunal will be merged with the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal.
  3. The Industrial Tribunal is also to perform the functions of the Employees Provident Funds Appellate Tribunal and
  4. the Copyright Board will be merged with the Intellectual Property Appellate Board.

The amendments under the Finance Bill will change several laws and allow the Government to set a criteria for the appointment and removal of chairperson, vice-chairperson and other members of the tribunals and decide on their terms of service.

Need and Impact:

  1. India has a number of tribunals to look into appeals made from orders of specific regulators or sectors. Therefore, post merger, the Centre will have to ensure specialization the absence of which will lead to overlap and confusion.
  2. This might lead to overburdening the tribunals with more cases than it could handle.
  3. It would expedite administrative purposes. This will speed up dispute resolution and curb wasteful expenditure.
  4. Allowing the executive to determine appointment, reappointment and removal of members might affect the independent functioning of Tribunal. At present, these administrative rules, such as appointment eligibility, remuneration etc were governed by the respective acts and rolled out by the concerned ministry. This could also pose a conflict of interest in cases where the government is a litigant
  5. Uniformity in administrative rules will help in streamlining the functioning of these quasi-judicial bodies and ensure that vacancies aren’t kept pending for long.

Some Issues:

  1. There are arguments that Competition Appellate Tribunal (Compat) is not fit to merge with any other tribunal as it is too specialized and deals with complex matters. Dissolving Compat and merging with the NCLT could defeat the focus of competition law in India.
  2. The Airport Economic Regulatory Authority Appellate Tribunal merged into the Telecom Dispute Settlements and Appellate Tribunal appears incongruous.
  3. Increasing control of the Centre over tribunals will be contrary to the spirit and principles laid down by the Supreme Court to ensure fairness and jurisprudence. Section 179 of the Finance Bill transfers enormous powers from Parliament to the Centre.

Conclusion:

There is no harm in reorganizing the tribunals present but it must be done after careful review to make them better streamlined.