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This article is written by Neha Gururani, a student of Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi. In this article, she has discussed the dynamic concept of administrative tribunals in India, its characteristics, advantages and defects with reference to the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985.

Introduction

In Administrative law, the term ‘tribunal’ is used in a significant sense and refers to only the adjudicatory bodies which lie outside the sphere of the ordinary judicial system. Technically in India, the judicial powers are vested in the Courts which aims to safeguard the rights of the individuals and promotes justice. Therefore, to institute an effective system of the judiciary with fewer complexities, the judicial powers are delegated to the administrative authorities, thus, giving rise to administrative tribunals or administrative adjudicatory bodies which holds quasi-judicial features.

History of Tribunalisation

The concept of tribunalisation came into existence in India with the establishment of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal before the independence of the country. After independence, a need was being felt for resolving administrative disputes with flexibility and speed. The core objective of tribunalisation was to provide specialised and speedy justice to the people.

After the drafting of the Indian Constitution, several rights for the welfare of the individuals were guaranteed by the Constitution. People have the right to speedy trials and of specialised quality which cannot be delivered by the prevailing judicial system due to the overburden of cases and appeals, technicalities in procedure etc.

Hence, the need for the inception of the administrative tribunals couldn’t be ignored.

Growth of Administrative Tribunals

The 42nd Amendment to the Constitution introduced Part XIV-A which included Article 323A and 323B providing for constitution of tribunals dealing with administrative matters and other issues. According to these provisions of the Constitution, tribunals are to be organized and established in such a manner that they do not violate the integrity of the judicial system given in the Constitution which forms the basic structure of the Constitution.

The introduction of Article 323A and 323B was done with the primary objective of excluding the jurisdiction of the High Courts under Article 226 and 227, except the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 136 and for originating an efficacious alternative institutional mechanism or authority for specific judicial cases.

The purpose of establishing tribunals to the exclusion of the jurisdiction of the High Courts was done to reduce the pendency and lower the burden of cases. Therefore, tribunals are organised as a part of civil and criminal court system under the supremacy of the Supreme Court of India.

From a functional point of view, an administrative tribunal is neither an exclusively judicial body nor an absolute administrative body but is somewhere between the two. That is why an administrative tribunal is also called ‘quasi-judicial’ body.

Characteristics of Administrative Tribunals

The following are the few attributes of the administrative tribunals which make them quite disparate from the ordinary courts:

  1. Administrative tribunals must have statutory origin i.e. they must be created by any statute.
  2. They must have some features of the ordinary courts but not all.
  3. An administrative tribunal performs the quasi-judicial and judicial functions and is bound to act judicially in every circumstance.
  4. They are not adhered by strict rules of evidence and procedure.
  5. Administrative tribunals are independent and not subject to any administrative interference in the discharge of judicial or quasi-judicial functions.
  6. In the procedural matters, an administrative tribunal possesses the powers of a court to summon witnesses, to administer oaths and to compel the production of documents, etc.
  7. These tribunals are bound to abide by the principle of natural justice.
  8. A fair, open and impartial act is the indispensable requisite of the administrative tribunals.
  9. The prerogative writs of certiorari and prohibition are available against the decisions of administrative tribunals.

Categories of Administrative Tribunals

Administrative Tribunals for service matter [Article 323A]

Article 323A provides the establishment of administrative tribunals by law made by Parliament for the adjudication of disputes and complaints related to the recruitment and conditions of service of Government servants under the Central Government and the State Government. It includes the employees of any local or other authority within the territory of India or under the control of the Government of India or of a corporation owned or controlled by the Government.

The establishment of such tribunals must be at the centre and state level separately for each state or for two or more states. The law must incorporate the provisions for the jurisdiction, power and authority to be exercised by tribunals; the procedure to be followed by tribunals; the exclusion of the jurisdiction of all other courts except the Supreme Court of India.

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Tribunals for other matters [Article 323B]

Article 323B empowers the Parliament and the State Legislature to establish tribunals for the adjudication of any dispute or complaint with respect to the matters specified under clause (2) of Article 323B. Some of the matters given under clause (2) are a levy, assessment, collection and enforcement of any tax; foreign exchange and export; industrial and labour disputes; production, procurement, supply and distribution of foodstuffs; rent and it’s regulation and control and tenancy issues etc. Such a law must define the jurisdiction, powers of such tribunals and lays down the procedure to be followed.

In the landmark case of L. Chandra Kumar v. Union of India[1], the court reached various conclusions as to jurisdictional powers of the tribunal constituted under Articles 323A and 323B. The Supreme Court struck down clause 2(d) of Article 323A and clause 3(d) of Article 323B on the ground that they excluded the jurisdiction of the High Courts and the Supreme Court under Article 226/227 and 32 respectively.

The SC ruled that the tribunals created under Article 323A and 323B would continue to be the courts of the first instance in their respective areas for which they are constituted. The litigants are not allowed to approach the High Courts directly by overlooking the jurisdiction of the concerned tribunal.

No appeal for the decision of the tribunal would lie directly before the Supreme Court under Article 136 but instead, the aggrieved party would be entitled to move the High Court under Article 226 and 227 and after the decision of the Division Bench of the High Court, the party may approach the Apex Court under Article 136.

Distinction between Courts and Tribunals

Courts

Administrative Tribunal

A Court of law is a part of the traditional judicial system.

The administrative tribunal is an agency created by a statue endowed with judicial powers.

A Court of law is vested with general jurisdiction over all the matters.

It deals with service matters and is vested with limited jurisdiction to decide a particular issue.

It is strictly bound by all the rules of evidence and by the procedure of the Code of Civil Procedure.

It is not bound by the rules of the Evidence Act and the CPC unless the statute which creates the tribunal imposes such an obligation.

It is presided over by an officer expert in the law.

It is not mandatory in every case that the members need to be trained and experts in law.

The decision of the court is objective in nature primarily based on the evidence and materials produced before the court.

The decision is subjective i.e. at times it may decide the matters taking into account the policy and expediency.

It is bound by precedents, the principle of res judicata and the principle of natural justice.

It is not obligatory to follow precedents and principle of res judicata but the principle of natural justice must be followed.

It can decide the validity of legislation.

It cannot decide the validity of legislation.

The courts do not follow investigatory or inquisition functions rather it decides the case on the basis of evidence.

Many tribunals perform investigatory functions as well along with its quasi-judicial functions.

The Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985

In pursuance of the provisions in Article 323A, Parliament passed the Administrative Tribunal Act, 1985, providing for all the matters falling within the clause(1) of Article 323-A.

According to this Act, there must be a Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) at the centre and a State Administrative Tribunal (SAT) at the state level for every state.

The tribunal is competent to declare the constitutionality of the relevant laws and statutes. The Act extends to, in so far as it is related to the Central Administrative Tribunal, to the whole of India and in relation to the Administrative tribunals for states, it is applicable to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir (Section 1).

Objective for the establishment of Administrative Tribunals

The main purpose of the introduction of this act was :

  1. To relieve congestion in courts or to lower the burden of cases in courts.
  2. To provide for speedier disposal of disputes relating to the service matters.

Applicability of the Act

According to Section 2 of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985, the act applies to all Central Government employees except –

  • The members of the naval, military or air force or any other armed forces of the Union
  • Any officer or servant of the Supreme Court or any High Courts
  • Any person appointed to the secretariat staff of either House of the Parliament.

Composition of the Tribunals and Bench

Section 4 of this Act describes the composition of the tribunals and bench. Each tribunal shall consist of a Chairman, Vice Chairman, Judicial and Administrative members. Every bench must include at least one judicial and one administrative member. The benches of the Central Tribunal shall ordinarily sit at New Delhi, Allahabad, Calcutta, Madras, Bombay and such other place as the Central Government specifies. The Chairman may transfer the Vice Chairman or other members from one bench to another bench.

Qualification and Appointment of Members

Section 6 of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985, lays the provisions specifying the qualifications and appointment of the members of tribunals.

Chairman: To be appointed as a chairman, a person must have the following qualifications-

  • He is or has been a judge of a High Court or
  • He has held the office of Vice Chairman for two years or
  • He has held the post of secretary to the Government of India or
  • He has held any other post carrying the scale pay of secretary.

Vice-Chairman: A person is qualified for the post of Vice-Chairman if he-

  • Is or has been a judge of the High Court or
  • Has for 2 years held the post of Secretary to the Government or holding any other post carrying the same pay scale under the Central or State Governments or
  • Has held for 5 years the post of an Additional Secretary to the Government of India or any other post carrying the scales of pay of Additional Secretary.

Judicial Member: A person to be appointed as a judicial member must-

  • Be or have been a judge of the High Court or
  • Have been a member of Indian Legal Service and has held a post in Grade I of the service for at least 3 years.

Administrative Member: A person to be appointed as an Administrative member must-

  • Have held the post of an Additional Secretary to the Government of India or another equivalent post for at least 2 years, or
  • Have held the post of a Joint Secretary to the Government of India or other equivalent post, or
  • Have adequate administrative experience.

The Chairman, Vice-Chairman and other members shall be appointed by the President. The Judicial Members shall be appointed by the President with the consultation of the Chief Justice of India. The Chairman, Vice-Chairman and other members of the State Tribunal shall be appointed by the President after consultation with the Governor of the concerned state.

Term of Office

According to Section 8 of the Act, the Chairman, Vice-Chairman and other members of the tribunal shall hold the office for a term of 5 years or until he attains-

  1. Age of 65 years, in the case of the Chairman or Vice-Chairman
  2. Age of 62 years in the case of other members

Resignation and Removal

Section 9 of the Act prescribes the procedure of resignation by any member and removal of any member.

The Chairman, Vice-Chairman or other members may resign from his post by writing to the President.

They shall be removed from their office only by an order made by the President on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity after an enquiry made by a judge of the Supreme Court. They shall have the right to be informed of the charges against them and shall be given a reasonable opportunity of hearing. The Central Government may make rules to regulate the procedure for the investigation of the charges against them.

Jurisdiction of Central Tribunal

Section 14 states that the Central Tribunal from the day of the appointment shall exercise all the jurisdiction, powers and authority in relation to the following matters which were within the jurisdiction of other courts (except the Supreme Court) before the enactment of this Act:

  1. Recruitment of any civil service of Union or All India service or civil post under the Union or civilian employees of defence services;
  2. All service matters of the above-mentioned employees, and also of employees of any local or other authority within the territory of India or under the control of the Government of India or any corporation or society owned or controlled by the Government;
  3. All service matters of such persons whose services have been placed by the State Government or any local or other authority or any corporation at the disposal of the Central Government.

Procedure and Powers of Tribunals

Section 22 of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 lays down the powers and procedure of tribunals discussed below-

  1. A tribunal is not bound to follow the procedure laid down by the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. It has the power to regulate its own procedure but must abide by the principle of natural justice.
  2. A tribunal shall decide the applications and cases made to it as rapidly as possible and every application shall be decided after scrutinizing the documents and written submissions and perceiving the oral arguments.
  3. Tribunals have the same powers as vested by the civil courts under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, while trying a suit, with regard to the following subject-matter-
  4. Summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person and examining him on oath;
  5. Production of documents;
  6. Receiving evidence on affidavits;
  7. Ask for any public record or document from any office under Section 123 and 124 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872;
  8. Issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses and documents;
  9. Reviewing its decisions;
  10. Deciding the case ex-parte;
  11. Setting aside any order passed by it ex-parte;
  12. Any other matter prescribed by the Central Government.
  13. Leading Case Laws

Case: S.P. Sampath Kumar v. Union of India[2]

Facts: The constitutional validity of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985, was predominantly challenged on the ground that this Act excludes the jurisdiction of High Courts under Articles 226 and 227 with regard to service matters and hence, destroyed the concept of judicial review which was an essential feature of the Indian Constitution.

Judgment: A five-Judge Bench of the Court upheld the validity of the Act except Section 6(1)(c). The court held that although this Act has excluded the jurisdiction of judicial review exercised by the High Courts in the service matters it has not entirely excluded the concept of judicial review. The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 32 and 136 has not been excluded by this Act and kept unscathed.

Thus, there still exists an authority where matters of injustice can be entertained by judicial review. The judicial review which is the part of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution can be taken away from a particular area only if an alternative effectual institutional mechanism or authority is provided.

However, Section 6 (1)(c) of the Act was held to be unconstitutional as it gave unrestricted power to the Government to appoint the Chairman, Vice-Chairman and other members of the tribunals. These appointments must be made by the Government in a meaningful and effective manner only after consulting the Chief Justice of India.

The court recommended that the term of 5 years prescribed under the Act for Chairman, Vice-Chairman and other members of the tribunal is not rational because it would act as dissuasion for the good and generous people to accept the job in the tribunal and should, therefore, be reasonably extended.

The directions given by the Supreme Court came into effect through the Administrative Tribunals (Amendment) Act, 1987.

Case: Union of India v. R. Gandhi, President, Madras Bar Association[3]

Facts: The constitutionality of the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) and National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) on the following grounds-

  1. Parliament does not have authority to vest the judicial functions in any tribunal that have been traditionally performed by the High Courts since so long.
  2. Transferring the entire company jurisdiction of the High Court to the tribunal are violative of the doctrine of Rule of Law, Separation of Powers and Independence of the Judiciary.
  3. The various provisions of Part 1B and 1C of the Companies Act are defective and unconstitutional, being in breach of constitutional principles of Rule of Law, Separation of Powers and Independence of the Judiciary.

Judgment: the court upheld the constitutionality of NCLT and NCLAT in exercising the powers and jurisdiction of the High Court subject to necessary changes to be made in the Companies Act, 1956 as amended in 2002, through suitable amendments

The court acknowledged and upheld the constitutional power of the Parliament to constitute tribunals for adjudication of disputes. The legislative competence of Parliament to provide for the creation of courts and tribunals can be traced to Article 245, 246 and 247 of the Constitution read with various entries in the Union List and the Concurrent List which is in no way affected or controlled by Article 323A or 323B of the Constitution.

The court further added that it cannot be assumed that constitution of tribunals and transferring judicial powers per se infringe the rule of law, separation of powers and independence of the judiciary because the Constitution enables both courts and tribunals to exercise judicial powers.

What matters the most is whether the constituted tribunals respect and maintain the principles of separation of powers, rule of law and independence of the judiciary. The constitution of NCLT and NCLAT must be subject to judicial review so that the court in the exercise of judicial review look into the matter to check if these principles are compromised by such tribunalisation and may interfere in between to preserve the same.

Advantages of Administrative Tribunals

The concept of administrative tribunals was introduced because it has certain advantages over ordinary courts. Few of them are mentioned below-

  • Flexibility: The introduction of administrative tribunals engendered flexibility and versatility in the judicial system of India. Unlike the procedures of the ordinary court which are stringent and inflexible, the administrative tribunals have a quite informal and easy-going procedure.
  • Speedy Justice: The core objective of the administrative tribunal is to deliver quick and quality justice. Since the procedure here is not so complex, so, it is easy to decide the matters quickly and efficiently.
  • Less Expensive: The Administrative Tribunals take less time to solve the cases as compared to the ordinary courts. As a result, the expenses are reduced. On the other hand, the ordinary courts have cumbrous and slow-going, thus, making the litigation costly. Therefore, the administrative tribunals are cheaper than ordinary courts.
  • Quality Justice: If we consider the present scenario, the administrative tribunals are the best and the most effective method of providing adequate and quality justice in less time.
  • Relief to Courts: The system of administrative adjudication has lowered down the burden of the cases on the ordinary courts.

Drawbacks of Administrative Tribunals

Although, administrative tribunals play a very crucial role in the welfare of modern society, yet it has some defects in it. Some of the criticisms of the administrative tribunal are discussed below-

  • Against the Rule of Law: It can be observed that the establishment of the administrative tribunals has repudiated the concept of rule of law. Rule of law was propounded to promote equality before the law and supremacy of ordinary law over the arbitrary functioning of the government. The administrative tribunals somewhere restrict the ambit of the rule of law by providing separate laws and procedures for certain matters.
  • Lack of specified procedure: The administrative adjudicatory bodies do not have any rigid set of rules and procedures. Thus, there is a chance of violation of the principle of natural justice.
  • No prediction of future decisions: Since the administrative tribunals do not follow precedents, it is not possible to predict future decisions.
  • Scope of Arbitrariness: The civil and criminal courts work on a uniform code of procedure as prescribed under C.P.C and Cr.P.C respectively. But the administrative tribunals have no such stringent procedure. They are allowed to make their own procedure which may lead to arbitrariness in the functioning of these tribunals.
  • Absence of legal expertise: It is not necessary that the members of the administrative tribunals must belong to a legal background. They may be the experts of different fields but not essentially trained in judicial work. Therefore, they may lack the required legal expertise which is an indispensable part of resolving disputes.

Conclusion

It can be concluded that in the present scenario, the administration has become an important part of the government as well as the citizen’s life. Due to this increasing role, it is important to establish a competent authority for the redressal of people’s grievances and adjudication of the disputes. Therefore, the concept of administrative tribunals was emerged and is dynamically flourishing in India holding certain flaws and strengths.

References

  1. AIR 1997 SC 1125
  2. 1987 SCR (3) 233
  3. 2010 6 SCR 857
  4. The Administrative Law by I.P. Massey
  5. The Administrative Tribunal Act, 1985

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