On Monday, Rajya Sabha passed the Tribunal Reforms Bill 2021, which will abolish nine appellate tribunals. The Bill replaces the Tribunal Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021, which was notified on April 4 earlier this year.
The Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021, was approved by Lok Sabha on August 3
The bill seeks to amend the Cinematograph Act, 1952, the Customs Act, 1962, the Airports Authority of India Act, 1994, the Trade Marks Act of, 1999 and the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001, and certain other legislation.
What Does the Bill Say?
The Bill states that it seeks to streamline tribunals and transfer the appellate functions to other judicial bodies to save expense to the exchequer and deliver justice fast. The objective does not hold any solid ground given the huge number of pending cases, judicial bodies in the country are already overburdened.
The absence of the tribunals that earlier shared the caseload of the judicial bodies will further slow down the process of arriving at legal justice. Apart from that, the tribunals were pertinent because of their specific expert knowledge in the concerned field to understand the conflicts in the question.
Moreover, the statements of objectives of the Bill clearly say that all cases pending before such tribunals or authorities will be transferred to the Commercial Court or High Court.
The Bill has removed certain provisions from the Finance Act, 2017 which was previously brought to merge several tribunals and reduce their numbers, and empowers the Union Government to “make rules to provide for the qualifications, appointment, salaries and allowances, resignation, removal and other conditions of service” of tribunal members.
The Bill states that a Search-cum-Selection Committee will recommend the names for the position of Chairperson and Members of Tribunals which will then be appointed by the Central Government.
Overlooking the Apex Court’s verdict from July 14 this year, Bill included the minimum age requirement for the office of a Chairperson or member is held to be 50 years.
Notably, the Bill contains the same provisions in the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021, which were struck.
Opposition’s Questions Dismissed with Rhetoric
The Bill was passed through a voice vote without any sincere discussion and debate on its provisions. A division vote an Opposition statutory motion to send the bill to a select committee for scrutiny was negated in the House.
44 MPs voted in favour while 79 voted against the proposal of sending the bill to the select committee.
Congress MPs in the parliament raised the question of judicial independence, to which the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman replied, “Who is speaking? Members from the Congress party, which during the Emergency completely curtailed the judiciary. Today such a party asks us of judicial independence. What a shame!” she further added, as the Opposition protested in the House.
Previously on February 13, 2021, the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Bill, 2021, was introduced in the Lok Sabha proposing to abolish certain more tribunals and authorities and to provide for a mechanism to file an appeal directly to the Commercial Court or the High Courts depending on the case.