Tribunals Reform Ordinance 2021 was notified and promulgated on 4 April 2021. The Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance dissolved a few existing and function bodies and transferred their rights to high courts and judicial bodies. With the Ordinance, the central government has amended ten laws to remove different bodies that function as an appellate body and also amends Finance Act, 2017.
The government introduced a bill in Lok Sabha on the same subject, but it’s not yet passed. The aims of the Tribunals Reforms Ordinance and the bill pending in Lok Sabha are the same. With the amendments, the government has made access to justice easy and improve its quality, but it has also taken away a few advantages and rights connected with the Tribunals. Let’s know more about the Tribunals Reforms Ordinance 2021 and the acts that will change after the promulgation of the Ordinance but first understand what Tribunals are;
What are the Tribunals?
Tribunal signifies a body that was established to settle certain types of dispute. It is a quasi-judicial institution that deals with administrative and small tax-related disputes. They are not a part of the original constitution of India and has been added by an amendment in 1985. Swaran Singh Committee recommended the Tribunals to provide speedy justice to a few and certain cases. The tribunals were added to the constitution by 42nd Amendment Act 1976. It is placed under the XIV-A part. The part has only two articles, and we have mentioned them here. Read them carefully to understand the tribunals clearly;
- Article 323-A: under this article recruitment, service conditions in a public service-related dispute come. The tribunal under Article 323-A resolves these kinds of issues only. Parliament can establish administrative tribunals. One tribunal can work for the centre or work for the state. The number of states can be more than one for a particular tribunal, but one state cannot have more than one.
- Article 323-B: The article gives the right to the tribunal to resolve the disputes related to food, taxation, industrial labour, import and export, Land Reforms, and many others. the tribunals under Article 323-B can be established by the parliaments and state legislative. For Article 323-B, the government posses the right to have a hierarchy.
Tribunals Reforms Ordinance 2021
Ministry of Law and Justice notified about the Tribunals Reforms Ordinance 2021. Despite the pendency of the bill in Lok Sabha, the Ordinance has been announced. It has become a topic of discussion among the people. However, the government has its reason to promulgate the Ordinance. We shall also have a look at the different points associated with the Tribunals Reforms Ordinance but before this, have a look at the appellate tribunals and transfer of their rights & Functions;
- The Cinematograph Act, 1952. Now its appeals will hear by High Court. People from the film industry raise their strong voice against this reformation.
- The Copyright Act, 1957. The functions of the tribunal have transferred to High Court’s Commercial Division or Commercial Courts.
- The Trade Marks Act, 1999. Rights of the tribunal have also transferred to High Court.
- The Customs Act, 1962. Functions have transferred to High Court.
- The Control of National Highways (Land and Traffic) Act, 2002. Civil Court will look after the issues that come under the act.
- The Patents Act, 1970 has been reformed, and the high court will work on its behalf.
- The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999. High Court will hear the appeals.
- The Airports Authority of India Act, 1994 has also been reformed. According to new provisions, the central government and high court both will handle the disputes of the properties found in airport premises.
Changes to the Finance Act 2017
One of the most important points of the Tribunal Reform Ordinance 2021 that UPSC aspirants must remember is changes to the Finance Act 2017. With the reformation, the Finance Act 2017 has got a few changes. Check them out here;
- More Power to Central Government: The Central government has more power in its hands to make rules for the services of the tribunals’ members. The rules can be related to the required qualification for a vacant post, designing new terms and conditions to work, salaries and promotion, suspension, removal and many others.
- Selection Committee: Central government can appoint a committee that has to search and select the most suitable members for the tribunals. The committee will have the right to appoint the chairperson of the tribunals.
- Work Period: The term of members and chairperson of a tribunal will be four years. The retirement age will be 70 years for the chairperson and 67 for the members.
Significance of Tribunals Reforms Ordinance 2021
Since the announcement of Tribunals Reforms, the people associated with different tribunals want to know the reason for the Ordinance. Though the tribunals were announced for swift justice, still they have a few challenges. Let us know about them and understand the need for the reformation of tribunals;
- Delay in Judgement: A huge number of cases were pending with different tribunals. According to the 272nd Law Commission Report Central Administrative Tribunal alone has the pendency of approx 2.5 Lakhs cases. So the main objective of introducing the tribunals was not fulfilled; hence the Ordinance became the necessity.
- Various Unfulfilled Vacancy: Unlike the other government jobs, the tribunals need different qualifications to apply for different or sometimes the same kind of work. The different requirements from different tribunals have raised the numbers of vacant posts. The posts didn’t get suitable candidates, and the work of the tribunals get affected.
- Non-uniformity: Tribunals were not following the same rules regarding the selection procedure, recruitment process, work tenure etc. So it became difficult to maintain and administrate them.
- Dependency: Despite having decision-making rights, the tribunals were having lack on independence. The government and the executives can change or influence the decisions. So any one of the party has to either accept a wrong decision or reach the high court. In both cases, it was a wastage of time, money and resources.
- By-Passing High Court: A few tribunals have the right to appeal in Supreme Court. This act by-pass the high courts and make justice costlier. So, giving more powers to the high courts is the solution to this much followed and criticised act.
Challenges with the Tribunals Reforms Ordinance 2021
With some benefits, the Tribunals Reforms Ordinance 2021 also bring some challenges. Now the high courts will have more pressure as the matters used to get resolved in tribunals will be routed to the high courts now. In tribunals, the administration work was informal and quick (in comparison to high courts). But now, the complete process and procedure will become complex and formal.
The Last Word
The Tribunals Reforms Ordinance 2021 has mixed reactions so far. According to the 74th Parliamentary Standing Committee Report, 2015, a single nodal agency can be a better option for administrating the tribunals. The 272nd Law Commission Report has also accepted the tribunals. The methodology of a merger can handle the flaws in tribunals as the UK did. The Leggatt Report of the UK can be an answer to all the questions raised on the efficacy of tribunals. Somehow, we will have to wait to see the result of Tribunals Reforms Ordinance 2021.