Very sorry state of affairs: SC seeks Centre’s clear stand on vacancies in tribunals

New Delhi:- Chief Justice N.V. Ramana on Friday highlighted the sorry state of affairs of tribunals across the country, while reading out a long list of vacancies in them and told the Centre to clear its stand, whether it is really keen to continue tribunals or prefer closing them.

The bench also comprising Justice Surya Kant said the delay by the Centre in filling up vacancies in various tribunals is effectively crippling their functioning and leaving people without legal remedies.

The bench read out the long-list of vacancies across the tribunals and added that 19 presiding officers, 110 judicial members, and 111 technical numbers are pending in all the tribunals. “This is the scenario of the tribunal. We do not know what is the stand of the government…”, said the Chief Justice.

The bench queried Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, “Whether you want to continue these tribunals or want them to close. Something needs to be done.”

The bench added, “The impression we are gathering is that it appears the bureaucracy does not want the tribunals. The Centre should clear its stand whether it really, really wants to continue the tribunals or close them down.”

The top court also cautioned the Centre that it will seek the presence of its top-level officers, if urgent action is not taken in the matter and asked the Centre to take a stand within a week.

Citing the top court’s recent judgment in Madras Bar Associations matter where it prescribed minimum tenure and qualifications for tribunal members, the Chief Justice said: “This is unending thing. How many times did Madras Bar file petitions? Three judges, five judges and then again three judges passed judgments”.

Concurring with the Chief Justice, Justice Surya Kant said: “You cannot make the tribunals defunct. If you don’t want the tribunals, we will restore jurisdiction of the high court. We cannot keep people without remedy.”

Mehta submitted that it would not be needed and asked for 10 days to respond on the matter. The top court scheduled the matter for further hearing on August 16.

The top court also issued notice to the Centre and GST council on a PIL by lawyer and activist Amit Sahni seeking constitution of national and regional GST Tribunal.

The top court made these observations while hearing other connected matters regarding vacancies in different tribunals across the country. The bench noted that it is a sorry state of affairs that despite four years of the Act coming into force, the GST tribunals are not set up.

In 2016, the GST Bill was passed in both the Houses of Parliament and the Central Goods and Services Act came into force on July 1, 2017. Section 109 of the Act mandates the constitution of a GST Appellate Tribunal which has not been constituted even after four years of the Act coming into existence.

“The constitution of the National and other Benches of Appellate Tribunal under section 109 of the CGST Act, 2017 has become an absolute necessity of the hour and the respondents cannot drag its constitution for an indefinite period,” said Sahni in the plea.