The Supreme Court on Monday criticised the Central government for its inaction in filling vacancies in tribunals across the country, Bar and Bench reported. Tribunals are quasi-judicial bodies that settle administrative and tax-related disputes.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana also castigated the Centre for passing the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021, with provisions that were earlier struck down by the Supreme Court.

“It is clear that you don’t want to respect the judgements of this court,” the bench said. “Now we have the option to stay the Tribunal Reforms Act or close down tribunals or we ourselves appoint the people or the next option is initiate the Contempt Of Courts Act.”

The bench, also comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao, asked the Centre how many people have been appointed to various tribunals, according to Live Law. “You are testing our patience,” the chief justice said. “You said some people are appointed? Where are the appointments?”

Justice Chandrachud said that several important cases were not being heard by the National Company Law Tribunal and the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal because of lack of members, The Times of India reported. Both of these are important for the economy and they play a key role in rehabilitation of corporate entities, he added.

Justice Rao said that the Centre was “emasculating these tribunals” by not appointing members. “Many tribunals are on the verge of closing down,” he observed.

The court said that it expects “some appointments to be done” by the next hearing on September 13. The bench was hearing a petition by Congress Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh that challenges the Tribunals Reforms Act.

Two of the Act’s provisions regarding the appointment criteria for members of tribunals were the 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.

During Monday’s hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, told the court that the Act has now been notified and the rules are in the process of being finalised. He said that the new law will help fill long-pending vacancies.

He added that there was “no remotest intention to close tribunals”, according to Bar and Bench.

The bench said that the Act contravening the Supreme Court judgement must have been the work of the bureaucracy. “I am sure you are not advising the Centre to bring such a law and this must be bureaucrats who are doing it and this is how bureaucracy functions,” the court told Mehta. “We are deeply upset.”

During the previous hearing in the case in August, the chief justice had sought an explanation from Mehta on why the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021, was introduced with provision struck down by the court.

To this, Mehta had said that it would not be proper for him to respond on the matter till the Bill attained the status of an Act.

Supreme Court verdict

In July, 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.