Tribunals are not originally a part of the Constitution of India. They were introduced in 1985.
- Tribunals were constituted with the objective of delivering speedy, inexpensive and decentralised adjudication of disputes in various matters.
- Tribunal are created to avoid the regular courts’ route for dispensation of disputes.
- Some triibunals are specialised government agencies like boards and they also have decision-making powers conferred upon them by law.
- The provision for tribunals was not present in the Constitution originally.
- The 42nd Amendment Act introduced these provisions in accordance with the recommendations of the Swaran Singh Committee.
- The Amendment introduced Part XIV-A to the Constitution.
- This Part is called ‘Tribunals’. It contains two articles.
Article 323A: Administrative Tribunals.
- Administrative tribunal are quasi-judicial institutions that resolve disputes related to the recruitment and service conditions of persons engaged in public service.
- Article 323A provides for this and the Central Administrative Tribunal was created under this Section.
Tribunals for other subjects such as:
- Industrial and labour
- Foreign exchange, import and export
- Land reforms
- The ceiling on urban property
- Elections to Parliament and state legislatures
- Rent and tenancy rights
- While 323A deals with administrative tribunal, 323B deals with other types of tribunals (like National Green Tribunal, Competition Appellate Tribunal (COMPAT), Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT), etc.
- Triibunals under 323A can be established only by the Parliament. However, tribunals under 323B can be established by both the Parliament and the State Legislature.
- Under 323A, there can be only one tribunal at the centre and one for each state (or two or more states), but under 323B, there can be a hierarchy of tribunals.
The characteristics of administrative tribuunals are mentioned below.
- They are of statutory origin, and so must be created by a statute by Parliament/Legislatures.
- They are quasi-judicial in nature, which means, they have some, not all the features of a court.
- They function on the principles of natural justice and are not bound by the Civil Procedure Code.
- They have the power to summon witnesses, administer oaths and compel the submission of documents, etc. like other courts.
- The writs of prohibition and certiorari are available against decisions of such tribunal.
- They are independent bodies and are not subject to administrative interference.
- Tribunals offer flexibility when compared to ordinary courts that have to adhere to strict procedures.
- They are cheaper and offer speedy justice.
- The procedure followed by the tribunals is simple and easy to understand even for the layman.
- They also offer relief to the ordinary courts that are already overburdened with suits.
- They go against the spirit of the “Rule of Law”.
- Rule of Law ensures that arbitrary power is not exercised by institutions or individuals.
- It is the principle that everybody is subject to and accountable to the law (which is fair).
- Ordinary courts have a uniform code of procedure for civil and criminal cases. But, administrative tribunals have no uniform code of procedure.
- Such tribunals are sometimes handled by subject matter experts who have no experience in dealing with judicial proceedings. Hence, they end up adopting summary procedures as well.
Challenges of Administrative Tribunals
Although tribunal were constituted to deliver speedy and quick justice to people, there are some challenges in their functioning.
- There is a lack of autonomy in the appointment and funding of tribunals.
- In the Chandra Kumar case (1997), the Supreme Court had held that appeals against the orders of a tribunal could be made in the High Court. This defeats the purpose of reducing the burden of the normal courts.
- Currently, there is a lack of infrastructure for the tribunals to function efficiently.
- Generally, the government appoints retired judges as chairpersons to tribunals. Because of this, current judges could show favouritism towards certain things so that they may be appointed post-retirement.
- The autonomy of the tribunals should be maintained and there is a need for structural and functional reforms of tribunals so that they are removed from the influence of the executive.
- There should be some form of judicial control over tribunals so that the Rule of Law is maintained.
A few examples of other tribunals are briefly described below.
Armed Forces Tribunal
- This is a military tribunal established under the Armed Forces Tribunal Act, 2007.
- It settles disputes with respect to the commission, emoluments, appointments and service conditions of personnel in the armed forces.
- Its Principal Bench is in New Delhi. It also has ten Regional Benches.
National Green Tribunal
- It was formed in 2010 for effective and expeditious disposal of cases that are related to the protection and conservation of the environment, forests and other natural resources.
Water Disputes Tribunal
- These are constituted for the purpose of settling disputes between Indian states on the question of water-sharing between rivers that flow through multiple states.
Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT)
- Established in 1941, the ITAT deals with appeals under the direct taxes acts.
- The orders passed by this tribunal are final and an appeal lies to the High Court only if a substantial question of law arises for determination.
- Currently, the tribunal has 63 Benches.
Issues with tribunalisation:
- Appeal: Administrative tribunals were originally set up to provide specialized justice delivery and to reduce the burden of caseloads on regular courts. However, appeals from tribunals have inevitably managed to enter the mainstream judicial system.
- High Pendency: Many tribunal also do not have adequate infrastructure to work smoothly and perform the functions originally envisioned leading to high pendency rates thus proving unfruitful to deliver quick justice.
- Appointments: Appointments to tribunals are usually under the control of the executive. Not only does the government identify and appoint the members of the tribunals, but it also determines and makes appropriate staffing hires. This is problematic because often there is a lack of understanding of the staffing requirements in tribunals.
- There is a lack of information available on the functioning of tribunals. Websites are routinely non-existent, unresponsive or not updated.
- Accessibility is low due to scant geographic availability therefore justice becomes expensive and difficult.
- Against the separation of powers: Tribunalisation is seen as encroachment of judicial branch by the government.
Way Forward and solutions
- Qualifications: In Union of India vs. R. Gandhi (2010), the Supreme Court looked at the working of tribunals closely. It said that when the existing jurisdiction of a court is transferred to a tribunal, its members should be persons of a rank, capacity and status as nearly as possible equal to the rank, status and capacity of the court.
- Independence: The administrative support for all Tribunals should be from the Ministry of Law & Justice. Neither the Tribunals nor its members shall seek or be provided with facilities from the respective sponsoring or parent Ministries or concerned Department.
- Accessibility: Tribunal must have benches in different parts so as to ensure that they are accessible.
- Appointments to members: should be done by an impartial and independent selection committee.