Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: A 3-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court, by a majority of 2:1, has declared that certain portions of Section 184 of the Finance Act, 2017 as amended by the Tribunal Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021 are unconstitutional and inoperative. Section 184 consists of provisions relating to the qualifications, appointment, etc., of Chairperson and Members of tribunals. The majority was formed by L. Nageswara Rao, J. who delivered the leading opinion, and S. Ravindra Bhat, J. penning a separate concurring opinion. Whereas, Hemant Gupta, J. wrote a substantially dissenting opinion.

The Challenge

The Madras Bar Association filed the instant writ petition seeking a declaration that Section 12 of the Tribunal Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021 (“Ordinance”) and Section 184 of the Finance Act, 2017 as amended by the Ordinance are ultra vires Articles 14, 21 and 50 of the Constitution of India inasmuch as these are violative of the principles of separation of powers and independence of judiciary, apart from being contrary to the principles laid down by several earlier judgments[1] of the Supreme Court.

The dispute raised in the writ petition relates to:

(i) First proviso to Section 184(1) according to which a person below the age of 50 years shall not be eligible for appointment as Chairperson or Member; and also the second proviso, read with the third proviso, which stipulates that the allowances and benefits payable to Chairpersons and Members shall be the same as a Central Government officer holding a post carrying the same pay as that of the Chairpersons and Members.

(ii) Section 184(7) which stipulates that the Selection Committee shall recommend a panel of two names for appointment to the post of Chairperson or Member and the Central Government shall take a decision preferably within three months from the date of the recommendation of the Committee, notwithstanding any judgment, order or decree of any Court.

(iii) Section 184(11) which shall be deemed to have been inserted with effect from 26-5-2017, provides that the term of office of the Chairperson and Member of a tribunal shall be four years. The age of retirement of the Chairperson and Members is specified as 70 years and 67 years, respectively. As per the proviso, if the term of office or the age of retirement specified in the order of appointment issued by the Central Government for those who have been appointed between 26-5-2017 and 4-4-2021 is greater than that specified in Section 184(11), the term of office or the age of retirement shall be as set out in the order of appointment, subject to a maximum term of office of five years.

The Finance Act and the Ordinance

The Finance Act, 2017 was brought into force from 31-3-2017 to give effect to the financial proposals for the financial year 2017-18. Sections 183 to 189 thereof dealt with conditions of service of Chairperson and Members of Tribunals, Appellate Tribunals and other authorities.

The Tribunal Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Bill, 2021 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 13-2-2021 but could not be taken up for consideration. According to the Statement of Objects and Reasons, the said Bill was proposed with a view to streamline tribunals and sought to abolish certain tribunals and other authorities, which “only add to another additional layer of litigation” and were not “beneficial for the public at large”. Thereafter, the Tribunal Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021 was promulgated on 4-4-2021. Chapter XI thereof makes amendments to the Finance Act, 2017.

Discussion and Observations

  1. Separation of Power

Discussing this indispensable concept, the Court said that the doctrine of separation of powers, though not expressly engrafted in the Constitution, its sweep, operation and visibility are apparent from the scheme of the Indian Constitution. It forms part of basic structure of the Constitution. The Constitution has made demarcation, without drawing formal lines between the three organs ─ legislature, executive and judiciary, which is nothing but a consequence of principles of equality enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution. Accordingly, breach of separation of judicial power may amount to negation of equality under Article 14. Stating thus, the Court reaffirmed:

Violation of separation of powers would result in infringement of Article 14 of the Constitution. A legislation can be declared as unconstitutional if it is in violation of the principle of separation of powers.

  1. Independence of Judiciary

On this point, the Court recorded that independence of judiciary is a fighting faith of our Constitution. It is cardinal principle of the Constitution that an independent judiciary is the most essential characteristic of a free society like ours and the judiciary which is to act as a bastion of the rights and freedom of people is given certain constitutional guarantees to safeguard independence of judiciary. An independent and efficient judicial system has been recognised as a part of basic structure of our Constitution.

After discussing Article 50 (which provides that the State shall take steps to separate the judiciary from the executive in the public services of the State) and Article 37 (which declares that the principles laid down in Part IV of the Constitution are fundamental in the governance of the country and it should be the duty of the State to apply the principles in making laws), the Court observed:

[Independence] is the lifeblood of the judiciary. … It is the freedom from interference and pressures which provides the judicial atmosphere where [a Judge] can work with absolute commitment to the cause of justice and constitutional values. It is also the discipline in life, habits and outlook that enables a Judge to be impartial. Its existence depends however not only on philosophical, ethical or moral aspects but also upon several mundane things ─ security in tenure, freedom from ordinary monetary worries, freedom from influences and pressures within (from others in the judiciary) and without (from the executive).

  1. Judicial Decisions and Legislative Overruling

The controversy that arose for consideration of the Court in the instant writ petition relates to the legislative response to the judgment of the Court in Madras Bar Assn. v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 962 (“Madras Bar Assn. case“). In that case, the validity of the Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal and other Authorities (Qualifications, Experience and other Conditions of Service of Members) Rules, 2020 (“2020 Rules”) was challenged by the Madras Bar Association. The relevant portions of the decision in Madras Bar Assn. case along with the affect of the Ordinance are discussed below at relevant place.

(A) Judicial Review

Appreciating the scope of judicial review of ordinances, the Court noted that it is the same as that of a legislative act. Article 123 of the Constitution empowers the President to promulgate an ordinance during recess of the Parliament, which shall have the same force and effect as an act of the Parliament. The validity of an ordinance can be challenged on grounds available for judicial review of a legislative act.

The power to strike down primary legislation enacted by the Union of India or the State legislatures is on limited grounds. Where there is challenge to the constitutional validity of a law enacted by the legislature, the Court must keep in view that there is always a presumption of constitutionality of an enactment and a clear transgression of constitutional principles must be shown. The Court reiterated that:

[S]ans flagrant violation of the constitutional provisions, the law made by Parliament or a State legislature is not declared bad and legislative enactment can be struck down only on two grounds: (i) that the appropriate legislature does not have the competence to make the law, and (ii) that it takes away or abridges any of the fundamental rights enumerated in Part III of the Constitution or any other constitutional provisions. [‘Manifest arbitrariness’ is also recognised] as a ground under Article 14 on the basis of which a legislative enactment can be judicially reviewed.

(B) Permissible Legislative Overruling

The Court culled out the principles in accordance with which legislative overruling could be permissible:

(i) The effect of the judgments of the Court can be nullified by a legislative act removing the basis of the judgment. Such law can be retrospective. Retrospective amendment should be reasonable and not arbitrary and must not be violative of the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

(ii) The test for determining the validity of validating legislation is that the judgment pointing out the defect would not have been passed, if the altered position as sought to be brought in by the validating statute existed before the Court at the time of rendering its judgment. In other words, the defect pointed out should have been cured such that the basis of the judgment pointing out the defect is removed.

(iii) Nullification of mandamus by an enactment would be an impermissible legislative exercise. Even interim directions cannot be reversed by a legislative veto.

(iv) Transgression of constitutional limitations and intrusion into the judicial power by the legislature is violative of the principle of separation of powers, the rule of law and of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

Validity of the Ordinance and Amended Provisions

The grievance of the petitioners was mainly related to the violation of the first proviso and the second proviso, read with the third proviso, to Section 184(1), Sections 184(7) and 184(11) of the Finance Act, 2017 as amended by the Ordinance.

  1. Section 184(1)

(A) The first proviso of Section 184(1) provides minimum age for appointment as Chairperson or Member of a tribunal as 50 years.

One of the issues considered in Madras Bar Assn. case was the correctness of the conditions imposed in the 2020 Rules that an advocate is eligible for appointment as a Member only if he has 25 years of experience. It is relevant to state that advocates were ineligible for most of the tribunals. In Madras Bar Assn. case, the Court found the exclusion of advocates from being appointed as Members to be contrary to earlier judgments of the Court. In such view of the matter, a direction was given to amend the 2020 Rules to make advocates with at least 10 years of experience at the bar eligible for appointment as Members in tribunals.

Discussing that the direction given in the nature of mandamus in Madras Bar Assn. case is to the effect that advocates are eligible for appointment as Members, provided they have experience of 10 years, the Court in the instant petition observed:

The first proviso to Section 184 which prescribes a minimum age of 50 years is an attempt to circumvent the direction issued in Madras Bar Assn. case striking down the experience requirement of 25 years at the bar for advocates to be eligible. Introduction of the first proviso to Section 184(1) is a direct affront to the judgment of this Court in Madras Bar Assn. case.”

Underlining the importance of recruitment of Members from the bar at a young age to ensure a longer tenure, the Court was of the view that fixing a minimum age for recruitment of Members as 50 years would act as a deterrent for competent advocates to seek appointment. Practically, it would be difficult for an advocate appointed after attaining the age of 50 years to resume legal practice after completion of one term, in case he is not reappointed. Security of tenure and conditions of service are recognised as core components of independence of the judiciary. Independence of the judiciary can be sustained only when the incumbents are assured of fair and reasonable conditions of service, which include adequate remuneration and security of tenure.

The Court found that first proviso to Section 184(1) is in violation of the doctrine of separation of powers as the judgment Madras Bar Assn. case has been frustrated by an impermissible legislative override.

Resultantly, the first proviso to Section 184(1) was declared unconstitutional as it is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.

It was directed that the selections conducted for appointment of Members, ITAT pursuant to the advertisement issued in 2018 should be finalised and appointments made by considering the candidates between 35 to 50 years as also eligible.

Ravindra Bhat, J., in his separate concurring opinion said that:

Prescribing 50 years as a minimum age limit for consideration of advocates has the devastating effect of entirely excluding successful young advocates, especially those who might be trained and competent in the particular subject (such as Indirect Taxation, Anti-Dumping, Income-Tax, International Taxation and Telecom Regulation). The exclusion of such eligible candidates in preference to those who are more than 50 years of age is inexplicable and therefore entirely arbitrary.

(B) The second proviso to Section 184(1) deals with the allowances and benefits payable to the Members which are to be the same as are admissible to a Central Government officer holding a post carrying the same pay.

In Madras Bar Assn. case, the Court considered Rule 15 of the 2020 Rules according to which, Chairpersons and Members of tribunals were entitled to House Rent Allowance at the same rate as admissible to officers with the Government of India holding Group ‘A’ post carrying the same pay. In that case, it was noted that an amount of Rs 75,000 per month which was paid as HRA was not sufficient to get a decent accommodation in Delhi for Chairpersons and Members of tribunals. Taking note of the serious problem of housing and the inadequate amount that was being paid as HRA to the Members, the Court in that case directed enhancement of HRA to Rs 1,25,000 per month to the Members and Rs 1,50,000 per month to Chairperson or Vice-Chairperson or President of tribunals. This direction was made effective from 1-1-2021.

Noting the submission of the Amicus Curiae that result of the instant amendment made by the Ordinance is that the Members of tribunals working in Delhi will get Rs 60,000 as HRA, the Court was of the view that the second proviso to Section 184(1), read with the third proviso, is an affront to the judgment in Madras Bar Assn. case. The direction issued in Madras Bar Assn. case for payment of HRA was to ensure that decent accommodation is provided to tribunal Members. Such direction was issued to uphold independence of the judiciary and it cannot be subject matter of legislative response. The Court held that a mandamus issued by the Supreme Court cannot be reversed by the legislature as it would amount to impermissible legislative override.

Therefore, the second proviso, read with the third proviso, to Section 184(1) was declared as unconstitutional.

The Court noted that after the judgment in the instant writ petition was reserved on 3-6-2021, the Ministry of Finance amended the 2020 Rules whereby the earlier Rule 15 was substituted[2]. The Explanatory Memorandum at the end of the notification states that the amendment to Rule 15 of the 2020 Rules on HRA, shall be given retrospective operation with effect from 1-1-2021, in order to give effect to the judgment in Madras Bar Assn. case. The Court was of the opinion that this amendment to Rule 15 is in conformity with the directions on the subject of HRA in Madras Bar Assn. case. In view thereof, no further direction is required to be given with respect to HRA.

  1. Section 184(7)

(A) Section 184(7) stipulates that a Search-cum-Selection Committee shall recommend a panel of two names for appointment to the post of Chairperson or Member and the Central Government shall take a decision preferably within three months from the date of the recommendation of the Committee, notwithstanding any judgment, order or decree of any Court.

Rule 4(2) of the 2020 Rules pertains to the procedure to be followed by the Selection Committee. According to the said Rule, the Selection Committee should recommend two or three names for appointment to each post. A direction was given in Madras Bar Assn. case to amend Rule 4(2) of the 2020 Rules to provide that the Selection Committee shall recommend one person for appointment in each post in place of a panel of two or three persons for appointment to each post.

The Court recorded that sufficient reasons were given in Madras Bar Assn. case to hold that executive influence should be avoided in matters of appointments to tribunals ─ therefore, the direction that only one person shall be recommended to each post. The decision of the Court in that regard is law laid down under Article 141 of the Constitution. The only way the legislature could nullify the said decision was by curing the defect in Rule 4(2). There is no such attempt made except to repeat the provision of Rule 4(2) of the 2020 Rules in the Ordinance amending the Finance Act, 2017.

Ergo, Section 184(7) was declared to be unsustainable in law as it is an attempt to override the law laid down by the Supreme Court.

(B) The second part of Section 184(7) provides that the Government shall take a decision regarding the recommendations made by the Selection Committee preferably within a period of three months. This was in response to the direction in Madras Bar Assn. case that the Government shall make appointments to tribunals within three months from the completion of the selection and recommendation by the Selection Committee.

Such direction, the Court noted, was necessitated in view of the lethargy shown by the Union of India in making appointments and filling up the posts of Chairpersons and Members of tribunals which have been long vacant. The direction given in Madras Bar Assn. case for expediting the process of appointment was in the larger interest of administration of justice and to uphold the rule of law.

The Court held, Section 184(7) as amended by the Ordinance permitting the Government to take a decision preferably within three months from the date of recommendation of the Selection Committee is invalid and unconstitutional, as this amended provision simply seeks to negate the directions of the Supreme Court.

  1. Section 184(11)

(A) The tenure of the Chairperson and Member of a tribunal is fixed at four years by Section 184(11), notwithstanding anything contained in any judgment, order or decree of any court. Sub-section (11) of Section 184 has been given retrospective effect from 26-5-2017.

Rule 9 of 2020 Rules had specified the term of appointment of the Chairperson or Member of the Tribunal as four years.  After perusing the law laid down by earlier judgments that a short stint is anti-merit, the Court in the Madras Bar Assn. case directed the modification of tenure in Rules 9(1) and 9(2) as five years in respect of Chairpersons and Members of tribunals.

The Court, in the instant petition, held that insertion of Section 184(11) prescribing a term of four years for the Chairpersons and Members of tribunals by giving retrospective effect to the provision from 26-5-2017 is clearly an attempt to override the declaration of law by the Supreme Court under Article 141 in the Madras Bar Assn. case.

Therefore, clauses (i) and (ii) of Section 184(11) were declared as void and unconstitutional.

(B) The proviso to Section 184(11) refers to appointments that were made to the posts of Chairperson or Members between 26-5-2017 and the notified date, i.e., 4-4-2021. The proviso lays down that the term of office of Chairperson and Members of tribunals who were appointed between 26-5-2017 and 4-4-2021 shall be five years even though the order of appointment issued by the Government had a higher term of office or age of retirement.

On this point, the Court referred to the interim directions given by the Supreme Court on 9-2-2018 in Kudrat Sandhu v. Union of India, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 2898 wherein it was held that all selections to the post of Chairperson/ Chairman, Judicial/ Administrative Members shall be for a period as provided in the Act and the Rules in respect of all tribunals. Reference was also made to certain subsequent orders passed in the same case of Kudrat Sandhu.

Coming back to the instant petition, the Court was of the opinion that though, there is nothing wrong with the proviso to Section 184(11) being given retrospective effect, the appointments made pursuant to the interim directions passed by the Supreme Court cannot be interfered with. The Court pointed out that even the interim orders passed by the Supreme Court cannot be overruled by a legislative act.

While making it clear that the appointments that are made to the CESTAT on the basis of interim orders passed by the Supreme Court shall be governed by the relevant statute and the rules framed thereunder, as they existed prior to the Finance Act, 2017, the Court upheld the retrospectivity given to the proviso to Section 184(11). Clarifying further, the Court stated that appointments after 4-4-2021 shall be governed by the Ordinance, as modified by the directions in the instant judgment.

Consequently, Section 12 of the Ordinance making amendments in the earlier Section 184 of the Finance Act, 2017, also stands invalidated.

The Dissent

Lastly, it may also be mentioned that the upshot of the dissenting opinion written by Hemant Gupta, J. (as summarised by S. Ravindra Bhat, J. in his opinion) was that as regards prescription of minimum age or with respect to conditions of service such as payment of house rent allowance, the Court ought to respect legislative wisdom; and that the directions issued in past judgments cannot bind Parliament, as they fell outside the judicial sphere.

The writ petition stood disposed of in terms of the majority judgment. [Madras Bar Assn. v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 463, decided on 14-7-2021]


[1] Union of India v. Madras Bar Assn., (2010) 11 SCC 1; Madras Bar Assn. v. Union of India, (2014) 10 SCC 1; Rojer Mathew v. South Indian Bank Ltd., (2020) 6 SCC 1; and Madras Bar Assn. v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 962

[2] Vide Rule 6, the Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal and other Authorities (Qualifications, Experience and other Conditions of Service of Members) (Amendment) Rules, 2021


Tejaswi Pandit, Senior Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Case BriefsSupreme Court

[Note: This report is a detailed analysis of Supreme Court’s judgment in Madras Bar Association v. Union of India[1]. To read the guidelines and directions issued by the Court, click here.]

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of L. Nageswara Rao*, Hemant Gupta and S. Ravindra Bhat has issued extensive directions in relating to selection, appointment, tenure, conditions of service, etc. relating to various tribunals, 19 in number, thereby calling for certain modifications to the Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal and other Authorities [Qualification, Experience and Other Conditions of Service of Members] Rules, 2020

The Supreme Court was once again, within the span of a year, called upon to decide the issue at hand. Last year, the Constitution Bench in Rojer Mathew v. South Indian Bank Ltd., (2020) 6 SCC 1 had held that the Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal and Other Authorities (Qualifications, Experience and Other Conditions of Service of Members) Rules, 2017, as a whole was ultra vires.

“That the judicial system and this Court in particular has to live these déjà vu moments, time and again (exemplified by no less than four constitution bench judgments) in the last 8 years, speaks profound volumes about the constancy of other branches of governance, in their insistence regarding these issues.”

Here is the explainer on the directions issued by the Court:

NATIONAL TRIBUNALS COMMISSION

“We have noticed a disturbing trend of the Government not implementing the directions issued by this Court. To ensure that the Tribunals should not function as another department under the control of the executive, repeated directions have been issued which have gone unheeded forcing the Petitioner to approach this Court time and again. It is high time that we put an end to this practice.”

Noticing that the Tribunals are not free from the Executive control and that they are not perceived to be independent judicial bodies, the Court said that there was an imperative need to ensure that the Tribunals discharge the judicial functions without any interference of the Executive whether directly or indirectly.

Hence,

“An independent body headed by a retired Judge of the Supreme Court supervising the appointments and the functioning of the Tribunals apart from being in control of any disciplinary proceedings against the Members would not only improve the functioning of the Tribunals but would also be in accordance with the principles of judicial independence.”

To stop the dependence of the Tribunals on their parent Departments for routing their requirements and to ensure speedy administrative decision making, as an interregnum measure, it was hence directed that there should be a separate “tribunals wing” established in the Ministry of Finance, Government of India to take up, deal with and finalize requirements of all the Tribunals till the National Tribunals Commission is established.

Read the directions here

SEARCH-CUM-SELECTION COMMITTEE

After it was brought to Court’s notice that the constitution of the Search-cum-Selection Committees as per 2020 Rules does not ensure judicial dominance, the Court made the following directions:

  • a casting vote will be given to the Chief Justice of India or his nominee as the Chairperson of the Search-cum-Selection Committee.
  • normally the Chairperson of the Tribunal would be a retired Judge of the Supreme Court or the Chief Justice of a High Court. However, there are certain Tribunals in which the Chairperson may not be a judicial member. In such Tribunals, the Search-cum-Selection Committee should have a retired Judge of the Supreme Court or a retired Chief Justice of a High Court nominated by the Chief Justice of India in place of the Chairperson of the Tribunal.
  • the 2020 Rules would be amended to reflect that whenever the re-appointment of the Chairman or Chairperson or President of a Tribunal is considered by the Search-cum-Selection Committee, the Chairman or Chairperson or President of the Tribunal shall be replaced by a retired Judge of the Supreme Court or a retired Chief Justice of a High Court nominated by the Chief Justice of India.
  • Secretary to the sponsoring or parent Department shall serve as the Member-Secretary/Convener to the Search-cum-Selection Committee and shall function in the Search-cum-Selection Committee without a vote.
  • Rule 4 (2) of the Rules that postulates that a panel of two or three persons shall be recommended by the Search-cum-Selection Committee from which the appointments to the posts of Chairperson or members of the Tribunal shall be made by the Central Government, shall be amended and till so amended, that it be read as empowering the Search-cum-Selection Committee to recommend the name of only one person for each post. Taking note of the requirement of the reports of the selected candidates from the Intelligence Bureau, another suitable person can be selected by the Search-cum-Selection Committee and placed in the waiting list.

Read the directions here

TERM OF OFFICE

At present Rule 9(1) permits a Chairman, Chairperson or President of the Tribunal to continue till 70 years which is in conformity with Parliamentary mandate in Section 184 of the Finance Act. However, Rule 9(2) provides that Vice Chairman and other members shall hold office till they attain 65 years.

Accepting Amicus Curiae’s submission that under the 2020 Rules, the Vice Chairman, Vice-Chairperson or Vice-President or members in almost all the Tribunals will have only a short tenure of less than three years if the maximum age is 65 years, the Court directed the Government to amend Rule 9 (1) of the 2020 Rules by making the term of Chairman, Chairperson or President as five years or till they attain 70 years, whichever is earlier and other members dealt with in Rule 9(2) as five years or till they attain 67 years, whichever is earlier.

Section 184 of the Finance Act, 2017 provides for reappointment of Chairpersons, Vice-Chairpersons and members of the Tribunals on completion of their tenure. There is no mention of reappointment in the 2020 Rules. Hence, Reappointment for at least one term shall be provided to the persons who are appointed to the Tribunals at a young age by giving preference to the service rendered by them.

Read the directions here

HOUSE RENT ALLOWANCE

Noticing that lack of housing in Delhi has been one of the reasons for retired Judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Court to not accept appointments to Tribunals, the Court directed the Government of India to make serious efforts to provide suitable housing to the Chairperson and the members of the Tribunals and in case providing housing is not possible, to enhance the house rent allowance to Rs.1,25,000/- for members of Tribunals and Rs.1,50,000/- for the Chairman or Chairperson or President and Vice Chairman or Vice Chairperson or Vice President of Tribunals.

“… an option should be given to the Chairperson and the members of the Tribunals to either apply for housing accommodation to be provided by the Government of India as per the existing rules or to accept the enhanced house rent allowance. This direction shall be effective from 01.01.2021.”

Read the directions here

ADVOCATES AS JUDICIAL MEMBERS

While the Attorney General suggested that an advocate who has 25 years of experience should be considered for appointment as a Judicial member, the Amicus Curiae suggested that it should be 15 years.

Considering both the suggestions, the Court said,

“As the qualification for an advocate of a High Court for appointment as a Judge of a High Court is only 10 years, we are of the opinion that the experience at the bar should be on the same lines for being considered for appointment as a judicial member of a Tribunal.”

However, it is left open to the Search-cum-Selection Committee to take into account in the experience of the Advocates at the bar and the specialization of the Advocates in the relevant branch of law while considering them for appointment as judicial members.

Read the directions here

ELIGIBILITY OF MEMBERS OF INDIAN LEGAL SERVICE

The Court directed that the members of Indian Legal Service shall be entitled to be considered for appointment as a judicial member subject to their fulfilling the other criteria which advocates are subjected to. In addition, the nature of work done by the members of the Indian Legal Service and their specialization in the relevant branches of law shall be considered by the Search-cum-Selection Committee while evaluating their candidature.

Read the directions here

IMPORTANCE OF APPOINTMENT OF COMPETENT AND YOUNG LAWYERS AND TECHNICAL MEMBERS

Tribunals discharge a judicial role, and with respect to matters entrusted to them, the jurisdiction of civil courts is usually barred. Therefore, wherever legal expertise in the particular domain is implicated, it would be natural that advocates with experience in the same, or ancillary field would provide the “catchment” for consideration for membership. This is also the case with selection of technical members, who would have expertise in the scientific or technical, or wherever required, policy background.

Younger advocates who are around 45 years old bring in fresh perspectives. Many states induct lawyers just after 7 years of practice directly as District Judges.

“If the justice delivery system by tribunals is to be independent and vibrant, absorbing technological changes and rapid advances, it is essential that those practitioners with a certain vitality, energy and enthusiasm are inducted.”

25 years of practice even with a five-year degree holder, would mean that the minimum age of induction would be 48 years: it may be more, given the time taken to process recommendations. Therefore, a tenure without assured re-engagements would not be feasible. A younger lawyer, who may not be suitable to continue after one tenure (or is reluctant to continue), can still return, to the bar, than an older one, who may not be able to piece her life together again.

Read the directions here

REMOVAL OF MEMBERS

Rule 8 of the 2020 Rules provides the procedure for inquiry of misbehavior or incapacity of a member. According to the said Rule, the preliminary scrutiny of the complaint is done by the Central Government. If the Central Government finds that there are reasonable grounds for conducting an inquiry into the allegations made against a member in the complaint, it shall make a reference to the Search-cum-Selection Committee which shall conduct an inquiry and submit the report to the Central Government.

However, Amicus Curiae argued that there is no clarity in the Rules as to whether the reports submitted by the Search-cum-Selection Committee are binding on the Central Government. The Attorney General submitted that the preliminary scrutiny done by the Central Government, according to Rule 8 (1) is only for the purpose of weeding out frivolous complaints and that the recommendations made by the Search-cum-Selection Committee shall be implemented by the Central Government. The Court accepted the submissions of the learned Attorney General.

Read the directions here

TIME LIMIT FOR APPOINTMENT

“The very reason for constituting Tribunals is to supplement the functions of the High Courts and the other Courts and to ensure that the consumer of justice gets speedy redressal to his grievances. This would be defeated if the Tribunals do not function effectively.”

It was brought to Court’s notice that there are a large number of unfilled vacancies hampering the progress of the functioning of the Tribunals. The pendency of cases in the Tribunals is increasing mainly due to the lack of personnel in the Tribunals which is due to the delay in filling up the vacancies as and when they arise due to the retirement of the members.

The Court, hence, directed that the Government of India shall make the appointments to the Tribunals within three months after the Search-cum-Selection Committee completes the selection and makes its recommendations.

Read the directions here

RETROSPECTIVITY OF THE 2020 RULES

The Court rejected the submission of learned Attorney General that the 2020 Rules which replaced the Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal and other Authorities (Qualification, Experience and Other Conditions of Service of Members) Rules, 2017 shall come into force with effect from 26.05.2017 which was the appointed day in accordance with the 2017 Rules and said,

“It is true that the 2017 Rules were brought into force from 26.05.2017 and Section 183 of the Finance Act provides for any appointment made after the appointed day shall be in accordance with the Rules made under Section 184 of the Finance Act, 2017. 2017 Rules which have come into force with effect from 26.05.2017 in accordance with Section 183 have been struck down by this Court. The 2020 Rules which came into force from the date of their publication in the Official Gazette, i.e. 12.02.2020, cannot be given retrospective effect.”

Further, the intention of Government of India to make the 2020 Rules prospective is very clear from the notification dated 12.02.2020. In any event, subordinate legislation cannot be given retrospective effect unless the parent statute specifically provides for the same.

The Court, however, clarified that all appointments made prior to the 2020 Rules which came into force on 12.02.2020 shall be governed by the parent Acts and Rules. Any appointment made after the 2020 Rules have come into force shall be in accordance with the 2020 Rules subject to the modifications directed in this judgment.

Read the directions here

In the petition that was filed by Madras Bar Association, the Court directed the Government to strictly adhere to the directions and not force the Petitioner-Madras Bar Association, which has been relentless in its efforts to ensure judicial independence of the Tribunals, to knock the doors of this Court again.

[Madras Bar Association v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 962, decided on 27.11.2020]


*Justice L. Nageswara Rao has penned this judgment.

[1] Writ Petition (C) No.804 of 2020, decided on 27.11.2020

Counsels heard:

Senior Advocate Arvind Datar, amicus curiae

Attorney General for India K.K. Venugopal,

Additional Solicitor General Balbir Singh and S.V. Raju,

Senior Advocates Mukul Rohtagi, C.A. Sundaram, Vikas Singh,. Anitha Shenoy, R. Balasubramanium, A.S. Chandhiok, Virender Ganda, M.S. Ganesh, Sidharth Luthra, C.S. Vaidyanathan, Guru Krishnakumar, Rakesh Kumar Khanna, Gautam Misra, P.S. Narasimha.

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of L. Nageswara Rao*, Hemant Gupta and S. Ravindra Bhat has issued extensive directions in relating to selection, appointment, tenure, conditions of service, etc. relating to various tribunals, 19 in number, thereby calling for certain modifications to the Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal and other Authorities [Qualification, Experience and Other Conditions of Service of Members] Rules, 2020.

While the bench has upheld the validity of Tribunal Rules, 2020, here are the modifications and directions issued by the Court:

(i) The Union of India shall constitute a National Tribunals Commission which shall act as an independent body to supervise the appointments and functioning of Tribunals, as well as to conduct disciplinary proceedings against members of Tribunals and to take care of administrative and infrastructural needs of the Tribunals, in an appropriate manner.

Till the National Tribunals Commission is constituted, a separate wing in the Ministry of Finance, Government of India shall be established to cater to the requirements of the Tribunals.

(ii) Instead of the four-member Search-cum-Selection Committees comprising of the Chief Justice of India or his nominee, outgoing or sitting Chairman or Chairperson or President of the Tribunal and two Secretaries to the Government of India, the Search-cum-Selection Committees should comprise of the following members:

(a) The Chief Justice of India or his nominee—Chairperson (with a casting vote).

(b) The outgoing Chairman or Chairperson or President of the Tribunal in case of appointment of the Chairman or Chairperson or President of the Tribunal (or) the sitting Chairman or Chairperson or President of the Tribunal in case of appointment of other members of the Tribunal (or) a retired Judge of the Supreme Court of India or a retired Chief Justice of a High Court in case the Chairman or Chairperson or President of the Tribunal is not a Judicial member or if the Chairman or Chairperson or President of the Tribunal is seeking re-appointment—member;

(c) Secretary to the Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India—member;

(d) Secretary to the Government of India from a department other than the parent or sponsoring department, nominated by the Cabinet Secretary—member;

(e) Secretary to the sponsoring or parent Ministry or Department—Member Secretary/Convener (without a vote).

Till amendments are carried out, the 2020 Rules shall be read in the manner indicated.

(iii) Rule 4(2) of the 2020 Rules shall be amended to provide that the Search-cum-Selection Committee shall recommend the name of one person for appointment to each post instead of a panel of two or three persons for appointment to each post. Another name may be recommended to be included in the waiting list.

(iv) The Chairpersons, Vice-Chairpersons and the members of the Tribunal shall hold office for a term of five years and shall be eligible for reappointment. Rule 9(2) of the 2020 Rules shall be amended to provide that the Vice-Chairman, Vice-Chairperson and Vice President and other members shall hold office till they attain the age of sixty-seven years.

(v) The Union of India shall make serious efforts to provide suitable housing to the Chairman or Chairperson or President and other members of the Tribunals. If providing housing is not possible, the Chairman or Chairperson or President and Vice-Chairman, Vice-Chairperson, Vice President of the Tribunals shall be paid Rs. 1,50,000/- per month as house rent allowance and Rs. 1,25,000/- per month for other members of the Tribunals from 01.01.2021.

(vi) Advocates with an experience of at least 10 years should be eligible for appointment as judicial members in the Tribunals. The experience of the Advocate at the bar and their specialization in the relevant branches of law is to be considered. They shall be entitled for reappointment for at least one term by giving preference to the service rendered by them for the Tribunals.

(vii) The members of the Indian Legal Service shall be eligible for appointment as judicial members in the Tribunals, provided that they fulfil the criteria applicable to advocates subject to suitability to be assessed by the Search-cum-Selection Committee on the basis of their experience and knowledge in the specialized branch of law.

(viii) Rule 8 of the 2020 Rules shall be amended to reflect that the recommendations of the Search-cum-Selection Committee in matters of disciplinary actions shall be final and shall be implemented by the Central Government.

(ix) The Union of India shall make appointments to Tribunals within three months from the date on which the Search-cum-Selection Committee completes the selection process and makes its recommendations.

(x) The 2020 Rules shall have prospective effect and will be applicable from 12.02.2020, as per Rule 1(2) of the 2020 Rules.

(xi) Appointments made prior to the 2017 Rules are governed by the parent Acts and Rules which established the concerned Tribunals. Any appointments that were made after the 2020 Rules came into force i.e. on or after 12.02.2020 shall be governed by the 2020 Rules subject to the modifications as directed in this judgment.

(xii) Appointments made under the 2020 Rules till the date of this judgment, shall not be considered invalid, insofar as they conformed to the recommendations of the Search-cum-Selection Committees in terms of the 2020 Rules, as they stood before the modifications directed in this judgment. They are, in other words, saved and shall not be questioned.

(xiii) In case the Search-cum-Selection Committees have made recommendations after conducting selections in accordance with the 2020 Rules, appointments shall be made within three months from today and shall not be subject matter of challenge on the ground that they are not in accord with this judgment.

(xiv) The terms and conditions relating to salary, benefits, allowances, house rent allowance etc. shall be in accordance with the terms indicated in and directed by this judgment.

(xv) The Chairpersons, Vice Chairpersons and members of the Tribunals appointed prior to 12.02.2020 shall be governed by the parent statutes and Rules as per which they were appointed. The 2020 Rules shall be applicable with the modifications as directed to those who were appointed after 12.02.2020.

The Court has clarified that all appointments made prior to the 2020 Rules which came into force on 12.02.2020 shall be governed by the parent Acts and Rules. Any appointment made after the 2020 Rules have come into force shall be in accordance with the 2020 Rules subject to the modifications as directed.

In the petition that was filed by Madras Bar Association, the Court directed the Government to strictly adhere to the directions given above and not force the Petitioner-Madras Bar Association, which has been relentless in its efforts to ensure judicial independence of the Tribunals, to knock the doors of this Court again.

[Madras Bar Association v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 962, decided on 27.11.2020]


*Justice L. Nageswara Rao has penned this judgment