The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday slammed the government for delayed appointments to tribunals. The Chief Justice of India (CJI) observed that the government is testing the court's patience.
CJI said that he is "very upset" and questioned if the government does not want tribunals. "Govt is emasculating the tribunals by not appointing members," the court said.
But why is the Supreme Court so concerned? How many vacancies are we talking about? How big are the delays in appointments to tribunals?
In 15 tribunals, there are a total of 240 vacancies. Chairs of 19 Presidents, 110 Judicial Members, and 111 Technical members are lying vacant.
The problem is particularly acute in NCLTs and NCLAT. After having been red-flagged by a Parliamentary Panel, now the SC has slammed the government. The SC bserved that NCLT, NCLAT are the cornerstone of government efforts to rehabilitate bad debts but yet no appointments. Chairs of 1 Chairperson, 19 judicial members and 14 technical members are lying vacant.
Interestingly, recommendations for 11 judicial members and 10 technical members had gone out in May 2020. There’s been no forward movement on the recommendations.
Similarly, NCLAT is missing 1 Chairperson, 1 Judicial member and 1 technical member.
Moving to ITAT, which sees vast direct tax based litigation, is missing 25 judicial members and 27 technical members. Recommendations for 35 members had one out in Oct 2019 – it’s almost been 2 years.
On the indirect tax side, CESTAT is missing 16 technical members.
NGT, which very often hits headlines, has chairs of 14 judicial members and 16 technical members lying vacant. As for appointment, Govt has floated proposals for only 7 vacancies.
DRT is not faring much better. 15 Chairpersons need to be appointed and the positions are lying vacant.
The appellate tribunal – DRAT – is also missing a Chairperson.
Litigious sectors such as telecom, which need a speedy resolution of disputes, are suffering at the hands of an under-manned TDSAT. It is missing 2 Technical Members. Recommendations of 4 names had gone out in Aug 2020.
The appellate Tribunal for deciding disputes coming from the market regulator Sebi is also missing 1 technical member, affecting the pace of decisions on Sebi orders.
Meanwhile, the SC was shocked to find that the Consumer Disputes Tribunal – NCDRC – was adjourning cases by not a few weeks, but for over a year. Chairs of 3 technical members are lying vacant. In June 2020, 14 names had been recommended for judicial and technical members. Only 4 were appointed.
Appellate Tribunal for Electricity – APTEL is also missing 1 technical member. A recommendation had gone out in November 2020.
The situation only gets worse when you look at the data for Armed Forces Tribunal, Railways Claims Tribunals and the Central Administrative Tribunal.
The top court has given a very short leash to the Centre, allowing it time till September 13 – that’s next Monday – to give clarity on the way forward, or face action at hands of the Supreme Court.