This article is written by Anusha Misra from NALSAR University of Law. This article evaluates the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Service Conditions) Bill, 2020.

Introduction 

India might be one of the leading countries in the world in terms of the backlog of court cases. Even after some of the best efforts made by the government to improve the situation, it is still like a merry-go-round. One such effort was the system of tribalization which was meant to reduce the burden of courts and provide a speedy redressal to the people. Indeed, some tribunals like National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) and Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission are helping the cause, but tribunals like Intellectual Property Appellate Body (IPAB) are increasing the burden on the judicial system. Thus, a constant demand was made to the government by many IP enthusiasts to ban the same.

On 13th February 2021, the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Bill, 2021 (hereinafter referred to as ‘Tribunals Reforms Bill’) was introduced in Lok Sabha by the Finance Minister, Ms. Nirmila Sitharaman. The Tribunals Reforms Bill was introduced to abolish certain tribunals and authorities and to provide a mechanism for filing appeals directly to the commercial court or the High Courts, as the case may be.

Noteworthy, the Government of India had begun the process of rationalisation of tribunals in 2015. Leading the path of revision, by the Finance Act, 2017, seven tribunals were abolished/merged based on their functional similarity, henceforth reducing the total number from 26 to 19.

It seeks to dissolve certain existing appellate bodies and transfer their functions (such as adjudication of appeals) to other existing judicial bodies. 

The Finance Act, 2017 empowered the Central government to notify rules on qualifications of members, terms and conditions of their service, and composition of search-cum-selection committees for 19 tribunals (such as Customs, Excise, and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal). The Tribunal Reforms Bill amends the 2017 Act to include provisions related to the composition of search-cum-selection committees and the term of office of members in the Act itself. The rationale followed was to close down tribunals that were not necessary and merge tribunals with similar functions. Further, the Bill incorporates the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission set up under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 inside the domain of the Finance Act.

The need for tribunals

The right to equity is a fundamental and natural piece of the essential construction of the Constitution. Effective admittance to equity would thus be able to be viewed as the most fundamental prerequisite, ensuring lawful rights. The tribunals settle questions in less time and in a practical way, making a useful environment for the foundation of tribunals.

As per the suggestions of the Swaran Singh Committee, Part XIV-A named ‘Councils’ was included in the Constitution (Forty-Second Amendment) Act, 1976, which involved the arrangement of ‘Authoritative Tribunals’ under Article 323A and ‘Courts for other issues under Article 323B. 

The two courts and councils are set up by the State and are endowed with legal capacities separated into simply authoritative or leader obligations. The courts will undoubtedly follow the recommended methods set somewhere around the law, yet the councils are not limited to them. They have the comfort of articulating the judgment as indicated by the detail and conditions of each case.

Proposition of reforms

The 2017 Rules were overturned by the Supreme Court in November 2019. The central government was ordered by the Court to reformulate the Rules. 

Following are the proposed basic changes figured by the commission: 

  1. In request to provide simple access to justice to residents, particularly those in rural areas, tribunals should have seats in various pieces of the country. 
  2. Qualification of Judges of the tribunals ought to be similar to the qualification of the High Court judges. 
  3. Appointment, administration conditions, and residency of the Judges, Chairman, Vice Chairman, and Members ought to be in a uniform and autonomous way. 
  4. With the intention to guarantee consistency in issues of every one of the tribunals, the Ministry of Law and Justice, a solitary nodal office, ought to be made dependable to screen the working of the tribunals. 

The previously mentioned changes brought in the need to cut down the pendency of cases under the watchful eye of the higher courts, and raise the effectiveness of the tribunals. These proposed basic changes have been valued however lamentably couldn’t have been carried out in reality.

Tribunals superseding High Courts

The reason for establishing tribunals was to outperform the significant lacuna prevalent in the Indian legal system. The Tribunals were never settled to override the forces of the High Courts. 

The Law Commission of India, in its 215th Report (2008), laid down the need to establish tribunals to help overcome the burden of cases for the High Courts. Administrative Tribunals were viewed as the ‘alternative mechanism’ to guarantee admittance to equity which is put at the grassroots level.

Transfer of functions of key appellate bodies as proposed under the Bill

Appellate bodyRoleProposed entity
Appellate Tribunal under the Cinematograph Act, 1952Adjudication of appeals against the Board of Film CertificationHigh Court
Appellate Board under the Trade Marks Act, 1999Adjudication of appeals against orders of the RegistrarHigh Court
Appellate Board under the Copyright Act, 1957Adjudication of certain disputes and appeals against orders of the Registrar of CopyrightCommercial Court or the Commercial Division of a High Court*
Authority for Advance Rulings under the Customs Act, 1962Adjudication of appeals against orders of the Customs Authority for advance rulingsHigh Court
Appellate Board under The Patents Act, 1970Adjudication of appeals against decisions of the Controller on certain matters like application of patentsHigh Court
Airport Appellate Tribunal under the Airports Authority of India Act, 1994Adjudication of:disputes arising from the disposal of properties left on airport premises by unauthorised occupants, andfor appeals against order of an eviction officerCentral government, for disputes arising from the disposal of properties left on airport premises by unauthorised occupants.High Court, for appeals against orders of an eviction officer.
Airport Appellate Tribunal under the Control of National Highways (Land and Traffic) Act, 2002Adjudication of appeals against orders of the Highway Administration on matters including grant of lease or licence of highway land, removal of unauthorised occupation, and prevention of damage to highwayCivil Court#
Appellate Tribunal under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001Adjudication of appeals against certain orders of Registrar or Plant Varieties and Farmer Rights AuthorityHigh Court
Appellate Board under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999Adjudication of appeals against orders of the RegistrarHigh Court

Highlights of the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021

The target of the foundation of tribunals was to outperform the significant lacuna in the Indian overall set of laws in the domain of the lawful proverb ‘Lex Dilationes Semper Exhorret’, which means that the law consistently detests delays. It was additionally of the assessment that for the effective working of the tribunals it is vital that a free single nodal service can likewise be set up which will regulate the direction of the Tribunals.

In addition, the Bill reduces the term or residency of the Chairpersons and Members of specific councils of National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission, Securities Appellate Tribunal, Debt Recovery Tribunal, National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, and the Debt Recovery Appellate Tribunal, Customs Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal, and Income Tax Appellate Tribunal. 

Further, the Bill has revised the qualification for a resident to be chosen as a Chairperson or Member of a Tribunal, consequently, making it obligatory that such an individual who has not reached the age of 55 years will not be qualified. Besides, the Tribunal Reforms Bill presents a Search-cum-Selection Committee which will be composed of the chairperson, three members and one member secretary. Out of three members, two members will be named by the Government of India who will be designated Secretaries. Moreover, it makes the chairperson and member of the Tribunal qualified for re-arrangement.

Latest shot in the long-running battle between the federal government and the Supreme Court concerning tribunals

In February 2020, the central government notified a new set of rules: the Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal and other Authorities (Qualifications, Experience and other Conditions of Service of Members) Rules, 2020. These were again challenged before the Supreme Court in the matter of Madras Bar Association vs. Union of India (2020). The apex court proposed substantive amendments to the 2020 Rules in its judgement, which was delivered on November 27 last year, including increasing the term of office of tribunal members to five years, allowing for re-appointment of members (subject to upper age limits), and allowing advocates with ten years’ experience to be appointed as judicial members within tribunals.

The Court also suggested that a National Tribunals Commission be established as an independent organisation to oversee the operation of tribunals. The national government introduced the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Bill, 2021 in the Lok Sabha in February this year to overturn the apex court’s decision. The central government promulgated the Ordinance in April after the bill failed to pass during the Parliament’s Budget session.

insolvency

Reform or downfall – a critical analysis of the Bill

The cycle of legitimization of courts began by the Government of India in 2015, as mentioned at the beginning. According to the central government, the proposed changes are defined to assist the courts. It recommended that the public exchequer’s weight be decreased on the basis of the courts’ framework and supporting staff. As indicated by the public authority, in different areas the courts have not been productive in conveying quicker Justice. 

Is there a need to establish tribunals

The Bill has prompted long-standing discussions among individuals from different circles. One of the basic concerns is with respect to the specialization of the courts. It’s undeniably true that tribunals mean specialization of the subject. Regulatory Tribunals perform ‘half breed capacities’. They are moved by method and skill to deal with the intricate issues. In an advanced society, certain perplexing issues can’t generally be settled by applying universal standards. Authoritative Tribunals assume a compelling part of remembering the details and public interest while settling the issues. 

It is plausible that the High Courts and Commercial Courts face issues in taking care of plenty of cases that need specialized help in a predefined subject. This would prompt an expansion in the pendency of cases and again defeat the purpose of the Indian Legal System of addressing the necessities of the general public. The absence of judges in the Supreme Court and particularly in High Courts involves worry for quite a while.

Additionally, moving the forthcoming issue before the Appellate Tribunals to Commercial Courts and High Court, according to the proposed Bill, would bring in procedural changes as well. A Law Commission’s 245th Report (2014) prescribed that to manage the excess issue, the expansion of very capable and proficient adjudicators are needed to support the pace of removal of cases. In the present circumstance, abolishment of tribunals probably won’t be an immediate response as far as the rapid removal of cases is concerned. 

While appreciating the accomplishment of the assessment councils, the Apex Court clarified that its prosperity roots from one of the numerous reasons that enrollment of individuals happen at a more youthful age which adds to the movement of their professions inside courts just as from courts to the High Courts. 

This must be conceivable if young and merit-based residents are selected as individuals from the tribunals. 

Conclusion 

The consequence of prohibiting the Intellectual Property Appellate Board will be that individuals will again need to battle with the procedural laws of the courts. Likewise, as there will be no specialized individuals in the court during the mediation of the IP debates, the part of a well-qualified assessment will turn out to be vital.

To summarize the entire conversation, one might say that restricting IPAB is the right advance taken by the public authority as it was going about as an obstacle against the removal of IP questions. Notwithstanding, it will be intriguing to perceive how the legal executive will overcome the increment in the accumulation of cases. While appreciating the success of the tax tribunals, the Apex Court elucidated that its success roots from one of many reasons of recruitment of members take place at a younger age which contributes to the progression of their careers within tribunals as well as from tribunals to the High Courts.

This can only be possible if young and merit-based citizens are recruited as members of the Tribunals. As the current government is in the absolute majority, this bill will not face any difficulty in attaining the status of an Act in the upcoming days. The result of banning IPAB will be that people will again have to struggle with the procedural laws of the courts and the dispute between the parties will have longer life expectancy due to the trend of adjournments in the courts. Also, as there will be no technical members in the court during the adjudication of the IP disputes, the role of expert opinion will become very important.

To sum up the whole discussion, it can be said that banning IPAB is the right step taken by the government as it was acting as an impediment against the disposal of IP disputes. However, it will be interesting to see how the judiciary will cope up with the increase in the backlog of cases.

The Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Bill, 2021, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on February 13, 2021, 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, as the case may be. The Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021, was approved by the Lok Sabha on August 3, 2021.

References 

  1. https://prsindia.org/billtrack/the-tribunals-reforms-rationalisation-and-conditions-of-service-bill-2021
  2. http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-5411-analysis-of-the-tribunals-reforms-rationalisation-and-conditions-of-service-ordinance-2021.html 

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