Govt looking at pruning number of tribunals

By: | Published: January 23, 2016 12:55 AM

Ministries asked to give suggestions on this proposal: Law secretary

The government is looking at pruning the number of tribunals in the country and such agencies under central laws could be reduced from 36 at present to 16, law secretary PK Malhotra said.

“We have got a direction from the Prime Minister who accords (rationalisation of regulators and tribunals) top priority. As per a preliminary study, some among the (36 central) tribunals don’t even have enough work. Some don’t have infrastructure,” Malhotra told FE.

Stating that the ministries concerned have been asked to give suggestions on this proposal, Malhotra said states would also be urged to undertake a similar exercise. There would be stringent scrutiny of the demands for new regulators, he said, adding that law ministry’s approval for such proposals would be after evaluating how essential they are.

Citing the Supreme Court ruling that all the tribunals should be preferably under the law ministry, rather than under different administrative ministries, he said a  consensus needed to be built on this. “This (bringing all tribunals under a single ministry) would avoid conflict of interest. Providing infrastructure will become much more convenient under one ministry as also the recruitment process will be expedited.”

Asked whether the government had any plans to revive the idea of a National Tax Tribunal, the secretary said no such proposal was under consideration as for now.

In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court had in September 2014, declared the Centre’s NTT Act, that sought to take away the jurisdiction of  High Courts in tax matters, as “unconstitutional”. The apex court said that while Parliament had the power vest adjudicatory functions with tribunals, the Constitution would stand violated if it “does not ensure that the newly created court/tribunal conforms with the salient characteristics and standards of the court (in this case, the High Courts) sought to be substituted.”  The SC had added, “The National Tax Tribunal encroaches upon the power of higher judiciary, which only can decide issues involving substantial laws and not a tribunals.”

On the debate over ‘tribunalisation of justice delivery’, Malhotra said the Supreme Court’s Constitution bench itself said that a time has come when tribunal system could not be done away with.  “The concern of the judiciary is these tribunals must be provided with proper infrastructure, the people who are appointed to these bodies are of the same stature as that of judges of the district court or high court. I think that’s a very good observation. The government, while making such appointments and even prescribing qualifications under the law, takes care of the court’s concerns.”

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