Chief Justice of India NV Ramana on Monday sought explanation from the Centre on its decision to enact a Bill with provisions that were earlier struck down by the Supreme Court, Live Law reported.
On August 9, the Rajya Sabha passed the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021. The Lok Sabha had passed the Bill on August 3.
Two of the Bill’s provisions regarding appointment criteria for members of tribunal bodies in India were same as in an Ordinance introduced by the government on the matter. These provisions were struck down by the Supreme Court on July 14 in a separate case.
Tribunals are legal bodies that settle administrative and tax-related disputes. Central Administrative Tribunal, Armed Forces Tribunal, Securities Appellate Tribunal are some of the examples.
On Monday, a bench led by Ramana was hearing a case related to filling up of vacancies in various tribunals in the country. During the hearing, the chief justice asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta why the Bill was introduced with provisions that have been invalidated by the court.
“We are not commenting on the Parliament proceedings...Of course, the legislature has prerogative to make laws,” Ramana said, according to Live Law. “At least we must know why the government has introduced the Bill despite being struck down by this court.”
Ramana asked Mehta if he could present the official statement of reasons prepared by the government for introducing the Bill. To this, Mehta, representing the Centre, said that it would not be proper for him to respond on the matter till the Bill attained the status of an Act.
He also requested for time to consult with Attorney General KK Venugopal before making a statement on the matter.
Provisions struck down by SC
In July, while hearing a case related to the Madras Bar Association, the Supreme Court had struck down two provisions of the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021.
The Ordinance had fixed the term of tribunal members at four years. However, the court held that the tenure should be of at least five years as it ensured more efficiency, according to Live Law.
The court also struck down the the eligibility criterion that members should be at least 50 years of age. The court, instead, held that advocates with a minimum experience of 10 years should be made eligible for appointment as tribunal members.
Pointing out the Supreme Court’s verdict, the Opposition had objected to the Bill when it was introduced in the Rajya Sabha. However, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman commented while the government had respect for the judiciary, powers of the House cannot be curtailed. She also said that Supreme Court had not struck down the provisions on the ground of unconstitutionality.
The Opposition moved a motion to refer the Bill to a select committee, but it was defeated by a 79-44 margin.
Court pulls up government over vacancies in tribunals
The court also took exception after Mehta sought 10 days’ time for filling up vacancies in the tribunals. Ramana, however, criticised the government as Mehta had sought time in the previous hearing on August 5 as well.
“We had given [you] last time [the] number of vacancies also...If you wanted to appoint, nothing prevented you,” Ramana said. As Mehta replied that the appointments were “under process”, the chief justice said that he had been hearing those words for long.
“Whenever we ask what happened to appointments, it is said it is under process,” Ramana said. “The under process has no meaning. We will give you 10 days and hope appointments are made.”