The Supreme Court on Wednesday gave the government two weeks to update the court on vacancies and appointments across tribunals.
A three-member bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice L Nageswara Rao was hearing a batch of writ petitions filed by the Madras Bar Association, Delhi Bar Association and Union Minister Jairam Ramesh, among others.
The court expressed its anguish over the state of vacancies across Income Tax Appellate Tribunals, National Company Law Tribunal, National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, Securities Appellate Tribunal, Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunals and Debt Recovery Tribunal.
“We are very much unhappy with the way issues are going on and how the decisions are taken,” the bench told KK Venugopal, the attorney general for India.
Arbitrary And Delayed Appointments
The apex court pointed out to the attorney general that for NCLT appointments, it had interviewed 534 candidates for judicial members post and around 400 candidates for technical members. Out of these, 11 judicial members were selected and the list was prepared in order of merit.
But the government selected only four candidates out of the merit list and the remaining members from the wait list. Same thing happened in selection of technical members as well.
The court also expressed surprise that most members selected by the government are already around 64 years of age. Since the tenure under the Tribunals Act, 2021 is only up to 65 years, effectively they will have only one year of service. “Which candidate will go and join this job for only one year?”.
To this, the attorney general responded that they are prepared to reconsider the entire list of non-accepted candidates.
Regarding vacancy at TDSAT, the attorney general informed the court that two posts were vacant. One member has been appointed on Sept. 11. The other names recommended by the selection committee have already been appointed elsewhere.
Cherry-Picking In Appointments
In relation to appointment of ITAT members, the counsel for petitioners informed the court that only 13 people have been appointed as against 41 recommendations and numerous posts continue to remain vacant. There are no reasons given for such selection, it is “mere cherry-picking”, the petitioners argued.
To this, the attorney general responded that appointments have been made and that a rejoinder to this extent will be filed.
No Effective Alternative Remedy
The counsels for the petitioners also highlighted the problem that most tribunals exclude the jurisdiction of civil courts. In absence of properly-functioning tribunals, the litigants are left with absolutely no remedy. High Courts, too, direct litigants to tribunals.
“Suppose a bank issues attachment notice under SARFAESI Act, possession orders are passed, properties of litigants are attached by officers, and the debtor has no recourse at all to any appellate tribunals,” the petitioners’ counsel said.
The court has granted two weeks time to the government to file counter affidavit indicating the status of vacancies and appointments. The attorney general has also been directed to place appointment letters of tribunal members so appointed on record.
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