The Supreme Court on Friday directed the Centre to constitute a National Tribunals Commission (NTC), which can act as an independent body to supervise appointments and functioning of the administrative and infrastructural needs of tribunals across the country.
The top court stressed the vital need to ensure that tribunals discharge the judicial functions without any interference from the executive, directly or indirectly. A separate wing in the Ministry of Finance shall be established to cater to the needs of tribunals, till NTC is constituted.
A bench headed by Justice L Nageswara Rao observed the importance of setting up such a commission which would enhance the image of the tribunals and instil confidence in the minds of litigants.
"Judicial independence of the tribunals can be achieved only when the tribunals are provided with the necessary infrastructure and other facilities without having to lean on the shoulders of the executive. This can be achieved by the establishment of an independent National Tribunals Commission as suggested above," said the bench, also comprising Justices Hemant Gupta and S Ravindra Bhat.
The judgement of the top court was delivered based on several pleas challenging the constitutional validity of the 'Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal and other Authorities (Qualification, Experience and Other Conditions of Service of Members) Rules, 2020, reported NDTV.
The bench in its 68-page verdict said, "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,"
It also said, "As an interregnum measure, we direct 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."
It suggested that till the amendments are made in 2020 rules, the search-cum-selection committees should comprise of Chief Justice of India or his nominee as the chairperson and others. The committee can also include the outgoing chairman or president of the tribunal in case of appointment of the chairman or president and secretary to the Ministry of Law and Justice.
The search-cum-committee according to the Rule4(2) of the 2020 Rules shall provide the name of one person for appointment to each post and another name may be recommended to be included in the waiting list.
"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," the bench said.
The court also said that Centre shall make serious efforts to provide suitable housing to the chairman or president and other members of the tribunals. Otherwise, the government should pay the chairman of the president and the vice-chairman or vice-president an amount of ₹1.5 lakh per month as house rent allowance and ₹ 1.25 lakh per month for other members with effect from January 1, 2021.
The 2020 rules shall be amended to make lawyers with an experience of at least 10 years eligible for appointment as judicial members in the tribunals and while considering their appointment, the search-cum-committee will take into account the experience of the advocate at the bar and their specialization in the relevant branches of the law.
"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 the recommendations of the search-cum-selection committee shall be implemented by the Central Government," it said.
The court has also directed the government to appoint tribunals within three months from the date on which the search-cum-selection committee makes recommendations.
It said any appointments made after the 2020 Rules came into force on February 12, 2020, shall be governed by it subject to modifications and appointments made under the 2020 Rules till the date of this verdict, shall not be considered invalid.
Chairpersons, vice-chairpersons and members of the tribunals who are appointed prior to February 12, 2020, shall be governed by the parent statutes and Rules as per which they were appointed