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'Don't want confrontation, but we are upset', SC tells Centre on tribunal vacancies

A special bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana on Monday told the Centre that it is not keen "having a confrontation" with it but its patience is running out on delay in filling up vacancies at key tribunals.

Dont want confrontation, but we are upset, SC tells Centre on tribunal vacancies
CJI NV Ramana (File Photo)

New Delhi

The bench, also comprising justices D.Y. Chandrachud and L. Nageswara Rao said in the backdrop of long-pending vacancies, the tribunals across the country are on "the verge of collapse", some are only working with one-member, and cases are being adjourned by a year. Justice Ramana told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta: "We are upset, we will give you 3-4 days time". The bench clearly told the Mehta to convince the government to fill long-pending vacancies at tribunals by next hearing  on September 13. 

At the beginning of the hearing, when Mehta asked for adjournment in the matter, the chief justice, denying adjournment, said: "You have no respect for the judgments of this court. You are testing our patience". 

Mehta shared a screenshot of a letter addressed to him by the finance ministry on September 6. The ministry said the rules under Tribunal Reforms Act, 2021 are in the process of being finalized and will soon be notified. "The new law has paved the way for filling up of vacancies in the tribunals... The government will ensure that within next two weeks, a decision on appointment to all the tribunals is taken where the Search-cum-Selection Committees have already given their recommendations to the government", said the letter. 

However, the contents of the letters did not budge the bench, which rather shot a volley of questions at Mehta, while making critical observations on the Act. Justice Rao questioned the assurance in the ministry's letter regarding filling up of vacancies in the tribunals. He asked Mehta: "The appointments have been pending for over a year-and-a-half. Why were these appointments not made?" Justice Chandrachud said the new Act is the replica of what was struck down in the Madras Bar Association cases. The bench said: "Next time we issue a judgement there will be a new law contrary to the judgement. It's a replica!" 

Justice Chandrachud noted, names for appointments were cleared by the Intelligence Bureau and then by a committee which included top court judges and senior-level bureaucrats. "No clarity, why they are deleted? We sit together with bureaucrats and made decisions. It is a waste of energy", said justice Chandrachud. Justice Rao said if appointments were not made then tribunals would have to be closed. "Emasculating by not appointing members", he added. 

The Chief Justice told Mehta, you never advise government to make legislation after legislation, "this is how bureaucracy functions I understand! But government need to take a call". The Chief Justice further added, "We are not interested in or inviting any confrontation. We are listing it next Monday. By that time see appointments are made". 

The Chief justice added, "We are happy with appointment of judges (9 judges to the top court). We do not want any confrontation with the government." He emphasized that Centre should fill up vacancies in tribunals, as it did for the top court. 

He told Mehta, "The tribunals have virtually collapsed. Why are you being so particular about the tribunals?" 

Justice Chandrachud told Mehta that NCLT, NCLAT are critical to the economy, and they are important for rehabilitation of corporate entities. He added that important cases are not being heard because of vacancies and by not appointing members at these tribunals creates a very critical position. 

The bench did not record these oral observations of the court order, instead asked Mehta to engage with the government on issue of appointments. Mehta said that he will convey it to the government. The bench told Mehta, "No, no 'conveying' is something else. If you don't want an order from us, you pass the order of appointments". 

If orders are not implemented, the top court said it has following options: Stay the Tribunal Reforms Act, close down tribunals, the top court appoints the people to fill up vacancies and initiate contempt of court proceedings. 

Concluding the hearing the Chief Justice stressed that the court expects some appointments to be made by Monday.

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