Tribunals in India are quasi-judicial bodies that are created to adjudicate specific types of disputes and matters. They have been established to provide specialized and efficient resolution of disputes, ensuring faster and more accessible justice in certain areas. Read here to learn more.
The Supreme Court in the case Union of India (UoI) & Ors. v. AIR Commodore NK Sharma (2023), has clarified that Tribunals functioning under the strict parameters of their governing legislations cannot direct the government to make policy.
The Court was hearing arguments on the question of whether the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) could have directed the government to make a policy to fill up the post of the Judge Advocate General (Air).
Evolution of the Tribunal System
The evolution of the tribunal system in India can be traced through various stages, reflecting the need for specialized adjudication in specific areas and an attempt to expedite the resolution of disputes.
Establishing tribunals has been driven by the recognition that certain matters require expertise and a focused approach.
- Before independence, there were various commissions and boards to address specific issues, but the concept of specialized tribunals was not well-established.
- The Railway Rates Advisory Committee and the Industrial Disputes Committees were among the early quasi-judicial bodies.
The establishment of tribunals gained momentum in the post-independence period to address the growing complexity of legal matters.
- The Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) was established in 1941 to deal with appeals in income tax matters.
- ITAT provides an independent forum for taxpayers to appeal against decisions of the tax authorities.
- The Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) was one of the first tribunals in 1985 to adjudicate service matters related to government employees.
- The Administrative Tribunals Act, of 1985 was enacted to provide for the adjudication of disputes and complaints related to the recruitment and conditions of service of government employees.
- The Act led to the creation of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) and State Administrative Tribunals (SATs).
Constitutional provisions for Tribunals in India
The constitutional provisions for tribunals in India are primarily derived from Articles 323-A and 323-B of the Constitution of India.
- It was incorporated into the Indian Constitution by the 42nd Amendment Act, of 1976.
- These articles empower the Parliament and the State Legislatures to establish administrative and other tribunals for the adjudication of specific disputes and matters.
Article 323-A: Administrative Tribunals:
Article 323-A empowers the Parliament to provide, by law, for the establishment of administrative tribunals for the adjudication of disputes and complaints concerning recruitment and conditions of service of persons appointed to public services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or any State or any local or other authority within the territory of India.
- Parliament has the authority to establish administrative tribunals to deal with service-related matters of government employees.
- The Administrative Tribunals Act, of 1985, was enacted by Parliament to give effect to the provisions of Article 323-A.
Article 323-B: Tribunals for Other Matters:
Article 323-B empowers both the Parliament and the State Legislatures to create tribunals for the adjudication of disputes and matters specified in the Article.
This includes matters related to tax, foreign exchange, industrial and labor disputes, land reforms, Ceiling on urban property, Elections to Parliament and state legislatures, Food stuff, Rent and tenancy rights, and other subjects.
- Parliament and State Legislatures have concurrent powers to establish tribunals for various matters listed in Article 323-B.
- The provision allows for the creation of tribunals to address the specialized needs of different subjects.
While Articles 323-A and 323-B empower the creation of tribunals, the Supreme Court has emphasized that these tribunals should not infringe upon the power of the judiciary. The decisions of tribunals are subject to judicial review, and the High Courts and the Supreme Court can adjudicate matters related to the constitutional validity of laws and actions of tribunals.
Tribunals in India
Tribunals operate under specific laws related to the subject matter they deal with.
National Green Tribunal (NGT):
- Established: 2010
- Jurisdiction: Environmental matters, including conservation of forests and other natural resources, and enforcement of environmental laws.
- Powers: Adjudication of civil cases related to environmental protection and conservation.
Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT):
- Established: 1985
- Jurisdiction: Service matters related to the recruitment and conditions of service of government employees.
- Powers: Adjudication of disputes and complaints related to government employees.
Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT):
- Established: 2009
- Jurisdiction: Matters related to the armed forces, including disputes and service-related issues of military personnel.
- Powers: Adjudication of cases involving armed forces personnel.
Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT):
- Established: 1941
- Jurisdiction: Income tax matters, including appeals against orders of the Commissioner of Income Tax.
- Powers: Adjudication of appeals related to income tax disputes.
Securities Appellate Tribunal:
- Established: 1992
- Jurisdiction: Matters related to securities and capital markets, including appeals against decisions of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI).
- Powers: Adjudication of disputes in the securities market.
Competition Appellate Tribunal (COMPAT) – Repealed:
- Repealed: In 2017, the Competition Appellate Tribunal was dissolved, and its functions were transferred to the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT).
Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT):
- Established: 2000
- Jurisdiction: Matters related to the telecommunications sector, including disputes and appeals in the telecom industry.
- Powers: Adjudication of disputes in the telecom sector.
National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) and National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT):
- Established: 2016 (NCLT), 2016 (NCLAT)
- Jurisdiction: Corporate and company law matters, including insolvency and bankruptcy cases.
- Powers: Adjudication of cases related to corporate disputes and insolvency proceedings.
Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions:
- Established: At the state, district, and national levels
- Jurisdiction: Consumer disputes, including cases related to product defects, deficiency in services, and unfair trade practices.
- Powers: Adjudication of consumer complaints and appeals.
State Administrative Tribunals (SATs):
- Established: In various states
- Jurisdiction: Service matters related to the recruitment and conditions of service of state government employees.
- Powers: Adjudication of disputes and complaints related to state government employees.
Despite the advantages of specialized tribunals in India, challenges such as delays, vacancies in tribunal posts, and the need for consistent jurisprudence have been noted.
- There have been discussions on reforms, including the proposed introduction of the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalization and Conditions of Service) Bill 2021 to streamline the functioning of tribunals.
- As quasi-judicial bodies, they have the same degree of independence from the Executive as the courts that they replace.
- One of the key purposes of tribunals is to reduce the workload of courts so that there is quicker disposal of cases. However, even some tribunals face the issue of a large backlog of cases.
- The lack of human resources (such as an inadequate number of judges) is observed to be one of the key reasons for the accumulation of pending cases in courts.
The tribunals in India play a vital role in ensuring the swift resolution of disputes in specific areas, thereby reducing the burden on traditional courts and providing specialized expertise in the adjudication process. They contribute to the efficiency of the legal system and the delivery of justice in their respective domains.
-Article by Swathi Satish