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Tribunals are the Quasi Judiciary Authorities exclusively set up by the Parliament to facilitate speedy Justice and reduce the burden on regular courts. This concept was introduced vide 42nd Constitution Amendment Act, 1976 (wef 03.01.1977) with the introduction of Part XIVA and Articles 323A and 323B to our Constitution. It is time to understand as to whether the purpose of setting up of Tribunals have achieved its principle objective. However, this idea could take its full shape only after the enactment of The Administrative Tribunal Act, 1985 when first Tribunals were formed. The Act was amended during the year 1986 to repeal many provisions and inclusion of new provision under Sec.24. Tribunals are therefore the adjudicatory bodies (except ordinary courts of law) constituted by the Parliament and State Legislatures to maintain procedural safeguards while arriving at their decisions and in accordance with the core principles of natural justice-their opinions were substantiated by the 14th Law Commission Report. Hence Tribunals were basically established to provide speedy justice at affordable cost using decentralised powers.

A. Article 323A. Administrative tribunals

1. It is a quasi-judiciary authority set by exclusively by Parliament to provide inexpensive and speedy relief to the litigants.

2. It exclusively deals in the adjudication or trial for disputes and complaints related to recruitment and conditions of service of persons appointed to public services and posts under Union or of any State or of any local or other authority within the territory of India or under the control of the Government of India or of any corporation owned or controlled by the Government.

3. There are three types of Tribunals (a) Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) – For Services under Central Government (b) State Administrative Tribunal (SAT) – For Services under State Government (c) Joint Administrative Tribunal (JAT) – Tribunals for two States

4. Appellant Jurisdiction can rest with High Courts specify the jurisdiction, powers (including the power to punish for contempt) and authority which may be exercised by each of the said tribunals;

5. They are not bound by the provisions of Civil Procedure Code, 1908 and only by Natural Justice (a) Judge cannot adjudicate his own matter (b) Fair Hearing – No Discrimination on grounds of Caste, Creed, Sex, etc.

6. It is presided by Chairman and Vice-Chairman directly appointed by the President of India from Judiciary and Administrative Services. The Upper Age limit is fixed as 65 years and 62 years for Members.

B. Article 323B – Tribunals for other Matters

1. Set up for adjudication or trial for any disputes, complaints, or offenses related to levy, assessment, collection and enforcement of any tax, foreign exchange, import and export across customs frontiers, industrial and labour disputes, land reforms by way of acquisition by the State of any estate, ceiling on agricultural land , ceiling on urban property, elections to either House of Parliament or the House or either House of the Legislature of a State, production, procurement, supply and distribution of food-stuffs (including edible oilseeds and oils) or any essential goods ,control of prices of such goods, rent, its regulation and control and tenancy issues including the right, title and interest of landlords and tenants, offences against laws with respect to any of the matters .

2. It provide for the establishment of a hierarchy of tribunals and specifies the jurisdiction, powers (including the power to punish for contempt) and authority which may be exercised by each of the said tribunals, procedure (including provisions as to limitation and rules of evidence) for compliance by the said tribunals, transfer to each such tribunal of any cases pending before any courts, etc3. It is set up under the joint powers of the Parliament and the State Legislature based on request put up by the respective States related to Environment, Illegal Migrants, Armed Forces, National Tax, etc. governed under Special Acts.

The Landmark Chandrakumar case decided by a 7 Member Bench headed by A.M. Ahmadi CJI & M.M. Punchhi & K. Ramaswamy & S.P. Bharucha & S. Saghir Ahmad & K. Venkataswami & K.T. Thomas in 1997 (2) SCR 1186 A.M. Ahmadi, C.J. had observed that the Tribunals created under Article 323A and Article 323B of the Constitution possess the competence to test the constitutional validity of statutory provisions and rules. All decisions of these Tribunals will be subject to scrutiny before a Division Bench of the High Court within whose jurisdiction the concerned Tribunal falls and would continue to act like Courts of first instance in respect of the areas of law for which they have been constituted and will not, be open for litigants to directly approach the High Court’s  They reversed its earlier judgment and ruled that power of judiciary vested in the Supreme Court and High courts is constituted part of the basic structure of the constitution and could not be taken away. Tribunals are allowed to function as courts of first instance subject to the jurisdiction of High Courts. This case has downgraded the role of Tribunals from the substantial role to supplemental role and needs to be reviewed further in the present context.

Whether Tribunals have achieved the objective over the last more than three decades?

1. Cases related to many Tribunals reach the Writ Jurisdiction side before High Courts once the aggrieved parties fail to get remedy. It has resulted in accumulation and pendency of number of cases thereby defeating the very purpose of institution of Tribunals under various specific acts. 

2. There is a need now to review the Administrative Tribunal Act, 1985 in terms of entrusting more powers at par with High Courts or the introduction of collegium system in the appointment of Chairman and its’ members as the President and the Governors should not  play any direct role in the selection.

3. The Characteristics and powers of Tribunals are very limited and often they prove ineffective in resolving the disputes as many of their orders are struck down by the Appellate and Writ Jurisdictions.

4. Tribunals should function only as an extended arm to regular courts with specific powers for adjudication.

5. Tribunals acted in excess of jurisdiction or failed to exercise the apparent jurisdiction only due to error in laws which contravened the principles of Natural Justice. Hence there is a need to revisit the respective enactments under which these Tribunals are constituted and are bound to deliver justice under an uniform structured Procedure as they function out of the purview of Civil Procedure Code, 1908.

6. Appellant Tribunals for every Tribunal should be instituted with specific jurisdictions in every Districts.

7. The Appointment Committee should comprise representatives from all the three pillars of democracy invariably excluding any constitutional head without any political interference.

8. Independent Chief Commissioner of Tribunals headed not less than the rank of a Chief Justice of India should be appointed by Committee of eminent members from all domains notified under the Act. In other words, people with unblemished track record in services and public life having rich knowledge in the field of Law, Tax, Defence, Science & Technology, Environment, etc should select the Chief of all Tribunals who will be empowered to exercise his administrative powers and review the performance of all Tribunals in the country as a whole under a single Administrative structure like the CAG, EC, RBI, etc.

9. The vagueness and uncertainty under administrative adjudication should pave way for prompt and effective means of adjudication to render Justice and provide relief to the affected without any delay.

10. Era of Tribunal Regime will supreme powers under specific enactments with a single Appellant Authority should find place in areas like Medical Negligence, Corruption, and Crimes against women, etc.  can be developed at large by strengthening the provisions under the parent Act.

Future development of law is rightly oriented towards the era of Tribunals functioning under specific enactments covering more domains devoid of all ambiguity. A revised updated composite enactment merging all the Acts under a single Code incorporating all the existing and new domains of law should be instituted so that Tribunals function effectively and independently to reduce the burdens on Civil /Criminal Courts. It would also help to explore more areas for the Justice Delivery System at a speedy pace at affordable cost.

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