27 March 2019: To ensure “efficient functioning” and “streamlining the working” of tribunals, the Supreme Court Wednesday sought to know from the Centre within two weeks its view on bringing all the quasi-judicial bodies under one central umbrella body.
The top court said it would not like to be bogged down with what is right or wrong and all it wants is that “the tribunals work efficiently and independently”.
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said it is tentatively of the view that directions given by the apex court in its two verdicts of 1997 and 2010 for bringing all the tribunals of the country under one nodal agency should have been “implemented long back”.
“There cannot be any manner of doubt that to ensure the efficient functioning and to streamline the working of tribunals, they should be brought under one agency, as already felt and observed by this Court…
“The Court would like to have benefit of the view of the government of India as on today by means of an affidavit of the competent authority to be filed within two weeks from today,” the court said.
The bench, also comprising Justices N V Ramana, D Y Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, which dealt with vacancies in tribunals, said recommendation of the search-cum-selection committee for the appointment of members in NCLT and NCLAT should be immediately implemented within two weeks. It listed the matter for further hearing after two weeks.
It said: “While every endeavour would be made by the nominee of the Chief Justice who heads the Selection Committee before whom the issue of recommendations may have been pending to expedite the same, such of the recommendations which have already been made by the Search-cum-Selection Committee as is in the case of National Company Law Tribunal and National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, should be immediately implemented by making appointments within the aforesaid period of two weeks and the result thereof be placed before the Court vide affidavit of the competent authority, as ordered to be filed by the present order.”
The bench said that once all the information with regard to appointments of members of tribunal and the Centre’s view is made available, it would pass appropriate orders which may include remitting the matter to smaller bench for monitoring on a continuous basis and “for ensuring due and proper functioning of the tribunals”.
The bench was hearing a petition filed by Madras Bar Association in 2012, which sought orders to the Centre for implementing the directions given in its two verdicts in 1997 and 2010. They had ordered the Union Ministry of Law and Justice to take over the administration of all tribunals created by Parliament and streamline their functioning.
During the hearing, Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for Centre, pointed out to the bench that certain difficulties in implementing the orders, including the need for an amendment of the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961.
He said the Ministry of Law and Justice was already overburdened with lot of works and may not be able to act and function as the nodal agency, which the Court had in mind while issuing directions way back in the year 1997.
Venugopal said that if the ministry is to act as a nodal agency for all the tribunals then it would have to deal with various issues, including over thousands of appointments of members of the tribunals and infrastructure, which would not be feasible.
He cited the example of under-staffed central law agency situated in the apex court that an affidavit was filed months back by the government but none of the law officers had any clue about it.
Venugopal suggested that for efficient and independent working of the tribunal a central body called National Tribunal Commission should be created, which could also look about all aspects including infrastructure and appointments.
Senior advocate Arvind Datar, who led the arguments for the petitioner, said that for effective and smooth functioning of tribunals, one umbrella body is needed as directed by the top court way back in 1997 and 2010.
The bench then commenced with the hearing on a batch of pleas which challenged the Constitutional validity of the Finance Act of 2017.
“If we hold that it was not a money bill, then the matter rests there but if it is being held by the court that it was a money bill then subsequent issues which pertains to affairs of tribunal will be dealt,” the bench said.
It clarified that the court is not going to hear 20 lawyers on the same point repeatedly saying, “this anarchy has to stop in the Supreme Court. Lawyers are arguing and arguing for 20 days on the same point”.
It asked the petitioners to discuss among themselves and sort it out as who will advance the arguments and if needed someone else can supplement on a particular point.