The Centre on Thursday agreed to reinstate Justice Ashok Iqbal Cheema as the acting chairperson of the National Company Law Tribunal till September 20, Live Law reported.
Attorney General KK Venugopal made the submission to the Supreme Court, which was hearing a plea filed by Cheema challenging an order from the Centre that terminated his services on September 10.
This was 10 days before the date on which he was supposed to retire.
Cheema had been appointed as a member of the National Company Law Tribunal on September 11, 2017, therefore his tenure came to an end on September 10, 2021.
In his plea, Cheema submitted that he had taken a leave from August 31 to September 10 to write pending judgements as he had assumed that he would retire on September 20. However, on September 10, he was told by the Centre that his tenure of four years at the National Company Law Tribunal had ended.
Cheema argued that his appointment order to the tribunal mentioned his retirement date as September 20, when he turns 67.
During Thursday’s hearing, Venugopal initially argued that the Centre will allow Cheema to continue in office “on paper” till September 20 and that the chairperson will receive retirement benefits, Bar and Bench reported.
He cited that Section 5 of the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021 fixes the tenure of chairpersons and members of tribunals at four years.
Notably, the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021 has been a flashpoint between the Centre and the Supreme Court over the past few weeks.
Last month, the Supreme Court sought an explanation from the Centre on its decision to enact the Bill with provisions that were earlier struck down by the Supreme Court.
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.
Responding to Venugopal’s submission citing the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021 on Thursday, the Supreme Court bench warned that it would put a stay on the law.
“We have to say you are responsible for this situation,” the court told Venugopal. The bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli asked the attorney general to consider the matter again and decided to take up the matter again after 30 minutes.
Venugopal then agreed to reinstate Cheema as the acting chairperson of the tribunal till September 20.
“It was said he [Cheema] took leave to write judgments,” the attorney general said. “So we have decided that he will be allowed to go to office and pronounce judgments.”
He also said that M Venugopal, who was appointed the new chairperson after termination of Cheema’s services, will be asked to go on a leave till September 20.