240 Vacancies At 15 Tribunals Even As Tug-Of-War Continues On Tribunal Reforms
It took a decade-long legal battle for successive central governments to establish the NCLT and NCLAT. First to adjudicate matters under the UPA government's ambitious Companies Act, 2013 and then as legal arena for all the action under Prime Minister Modi's much vaunted Insolvency and Bankruptcy Act, 2016. Over the years the two tribunals have decided many a high stakes corporate battle in India.
Yet, neither have had a permanent chairperson/president for over a year now.
The National Company Law Tribunal and the Appellate Tribunal are not alone. As many as 240 positions are currently lying vacant in 15 tribunals across the country, as revealed by the Chief Justice of India NV Ramana in court.
The vacancies persist despite recommendations made by senior judiciary, between months to a year ago, prompting the Supreme Court to wonder if lobbies and bureaucrats are working against these positions being filled. “We don’t know what is the stand -- you want to continue tribunals or close it down,” Chief Justice NV Ramana told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, the Indian Express reported.
Miffed by the delay in appointments, several judges, from among the selection committees for appointments to tribunals, have stopped conducting further interviews, as per a Times of India report.
As on August 5, posts of 19 chairpersons, 110 judicial members and 111 technical members are lying vacant across tribunals, according to the data shared in court.
NCLAT's former Chairperson Justice SJ Mukhopadhyay retired from his post in March last year. Since then, the appellate tribunal has been led by an acting chairperson, currently that is Justice AIS Cheema. Similarly, NCLT President Justice MM Kumar retired in January 2020. Justice BP Mohan is serving as Acting President.
34 positions are vacant across the company law tribunal, judicial and technical, despite 21 recommendations made by the selection committee in May 2020.
At the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal it's 52 -- 25 judicial member posts and 27 technical member posts remain unfilled, though 35 recommendations were made in October 2019, as per the court document.
The National Green Tribunal has 30 empty seats.
In court, the chief justice asked the government to explain its stand in 10 days failing which it will order key government officials to court.
You cannot make the tribunals defunct. If you don't want the tribunals then we shall restore the jurisdiction of the high courts. We cannot keep people without remedy.Supreme Court of India
Provisions Struck Down Yet Tribunal Reforms Bill Passed
Meanwhile, the Rajya Sabha today passed the the Tribunal Reforms Bill, 2021 despite concerns raised by members of opposition parties and a request to refer the bill to a select committee was voted down. The bill received Lok Sabha approval last week. The bill replaces an ordinance promulgated earlier.
Interestingly, several provisions in the ordinance, now replicated in the bill were struck down down by the Supreme Court last month. That two recommendations be made for every post, a reduction in tenure of members from 5 years to four and a minimum age of 50 for appointment to a tribunal.
The bill also dilutes the top court's direction to mandate a three- month time limit for the government to decide on recommendations made by selection committees.
The primacy of legislature in making law is important, said Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in response to the points raised by opposition members. "It is as important as the independence of judiciary."