Appointments to tribunals: SC takes strong exception to ‘cherry picking’ by Centre

Appointments to tribunals: SC takes strong exception to ‘cherry picking’ by Centre

Satya Prakash

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 15

The face-off between the Government and the judiciary over appointments to various tribunals continued on Wednesday with the Supreme Court taking strong exception to “cherry picking” by the Centre in recently cleared appointments.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana made certain harsh comments on the Centre even as the latter said there were no recommendations pending with it for appointments to tribunals. The Government said it has appointed 84 members to various tribunals since 2020.

Pointing out that the government picked up only three names from the judicial list, four from the technical and five from the waiting list, the Bench said, “We don’t know what type of appointment this is. It’s against service law. How can you go to the waiting list without exhausting the final list?”

The top court also took exception to the “hurried” appointment of Justice M Venugopal as Acting Chairperson of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal and asked the Attorney General to take instructions for hearing on the issue on Thursday.

It sought to know why the Government appointed only a few from the list finalised by the search-cum-selection committee headed by a sitting judge of the top court.

The committee—which also includes the law secretary and secretary of the parent ministry of the tribunal as its members—had cleared 11 names for judicial and 10 for technical along with a waiting list.

“We are very unhappy with the way things are going on and decisions are taken. There’s a problem and everyone is aware of it. We gave the solution, which is appointments and it’s for you to implement it. Without inviting orders from this court, if you can do something we will be happy,” said the Bench – which also included Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice LN Rao.

Ahead of Wednesday’s hearing, the Government had on 12 September notified 84 appointments to National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) and Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT).

However, describing the condition as “pitiable”, a dissatisfied Bench said litigants cannot be “left in the lurch”. It asked the Centre to make appointments in two weeks in tribunals awaiting appointments of presiding officers, judicial members and technical members.

During hearing on petitions seeking filling of around 250 vacancies in tribunals, Attorney General KK Venugopal said the Centre would make appointments in two weeks in the tribunals from the list of persons recommended by the search and selection committee.

The Bench asked the Government to explain the reasons as to why persons from the recommended list were left out in the process.

As Venugopal said the government was entitled to make a choice as per the Tribunal Reforms Act, 2021, the Bench shot back, “What is the sanctity of the selection process if the government has the last word?…It’s a waste of time.”

The top court expressed displeasure over the Centre extending jurisdiction of Debts Recovery Tribunal of one state to another state due to unfilled vacancy of Presiding Officer. Issuing notice to the Centre on its notification on the issue, it wondered how it was possible for someone in Jabalpur to appear before a DRT Bench in Lucknow.

It also issued notices to the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension, Odisha government and others on a petition challenging the abolition of the Odisha Administrative Tribunal (OAT). It asked them to file their response in eight weeks.