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Explained: The Tribunal Reforms Bill 2021 and why it has put Modi govt in Supreme Court’s crosshairs

The Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021 has replaced the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021.

Explained: The Tribunal Reforms Bill 2021 and why it has put Modi govt in Supreme Court’s crosshairs
On August 16, the top court had pulled up the Centre for delaying appointments to the tribunals and had also questioned it over the passage of the Bill. (File)

When Parliament passed the Tribunals Reforms Bill earlier this month, it set the stage for a clash between the judiciary and the legislative. The immediate aftermath was visible during a hearing in Supreme Court related to the recruitment in various tribunals. On August 16, the top court had pulled up the Centre for delaying appointments to the tribunals and had also questioned it over the passage of the Bill. The Supreme Court also asked the Centre to provide the reasons for introducing the Tribunal Reforms Bill 2021.

What is the Tribunal Reforms Bill?

The Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021 has replaced the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021. The Bill has not only abolished five appellate tribunals which are the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal, Airports Appellate Tribunal, Authority for Advanced Rulings, Intellectual Property Appellate Board and the Plant Varieties Protection Appellate Tribunal. It has also introduced changes in the terms of service of the tribunal officials.

The Bill also proposes to set up a search-cum-selection committee that will select and appoint the Chairperson and the Members of the various tribunals. The members of the committee will be headed by the Chief Justice of India, or a Supreme Court Judge nominated by and will have the voting right, two Secretaries nominated by the central government, the sitting or outgoing Chairperson, or a retired Supreme Court Judge, or a retired Chief Justice of a High Court and the Secretary of the Ministry under which the Tribunal is constituted. The secretary will have no voting right. For state tribunals, there will be a separate search committee.

The central government will have to decide on the recommendations of the committee within 3 months. The Bill also limits the tenure of the Chairperson of a tribunal to four years or till he/ she attains the age of seventy years, whichever is earlier. The members of the tribunal will have a term of four years or till he or she attains the age of sixty-seven years, whichever is earlier.

Why Supreme Court is unhappy with the Bill?

Some provisions of the bill are similar to that of the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance 2021 which was quashed by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court had last month struck down the provisions of minimum age for appointment as chairperson or members as 50 years. The top court had also quashed the four-year tenure provision mentioned in the ordinance. However, both the provisions have been included in the Act.

Also, Section 3(7) of the Act seeks to undo the SC verdict which held the provisions related to the recommendation of two names for each post by the Search-cum-Selection Committee and requiring the decision by the Central government within three months.

The top court during Monday’s hearing had lamented the lack of discussion over the Bill in Parliament and had noted that provisions of the Tribunals Reforms Bill 2021 are similar to those struck down by the court.

What next?
If any party or person or organisation challenges the validity of the Tribunal Reforms Act 2021 in the apex court or either the top court takes suo moto cognisance, the contentious provisions of the Act may get struck down again by the Supreme Court citing its previous order. However, no one has so far challenged the Act in court.

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