Constitutional Power and Function of Tribunals

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What are Tribunals?

Tribunals are quasi-judicial institution setup for fast, inexpensive and decentralised adjudication of disputes in various dispute matters such as administrative dispute and tax disputes. Tribunal gets constitutionalized under 42nd Amendment which added Article 323A and Article 323B.

Article 323A: This Article talks about establishment of Administrative tribunal for union and States and it power to punish and authority. And transfers of cases pending before the courts to the tribunal if the said subject matter belongs to that tribunal.

Article 323B: This Article provides establishment of tribunals for matters not covered in article 323a. Legislature may, by law, provide for the adjudication or trial by tribunals of any disputes, complaints, or offences with respect to all or any of the matters specified below:

  1. levy, assessment, collection and enforcement of any tax
  2. foreign exchange, import and export across customs frontiers
  3. industrial and labour disputes
  4. land reforms by way of acquisition by the State of any estate as defined in Article 31A or of any rights therein or the extinguishment or modification of any such rights or by way of ceiling on agricultural land or in any other way
  5. ceiling on urban property
  6. elections to either House of Parliament or the House or either House of the Legislature of a State, but excluding the matters referred to in Article 329 and Article 329A
  7. production, procurement, supply and distribution of foodstuffs (including edible oilseeds and oils) and such other goods as the President may, by public notification, declare to be essential goods for the purpose of this article and control of prices of such goods
  8. offences against laws with respect to any of the matters specified in sub clause (a) to (g) and fees in respect of any of those matters
  9. any matter incidental to any of the matters specified in sub clause (a) to (h).

Need of the tribunal

  1. Judicial Inadequacy: As traditional has been proved inadequate as burdened excessively and one cannot expect a fast execution in all matters. So various tribunal provides relief to the courts by solving disputes in effective and cost saving measures.
  2. Technical Expertise: As almost all disputes requires technical know-how of the subject matter of the suits. As tribunal are handled by the experts thus are able enough to cater to and solve such issues.
  3. Enforcement: Administrative authorities has power to enforce the preventive measures such suspension, cancellation or revocation of licenses and destruction of contaminated articles among others. The conventional courts usually don’t enforce these solutions.
  4. Flexibility of procedure – As there is no rigid procedures and evidence ordeals as in the courts in the India so there is no fix procedure. Tribunals works on the principle of Natural Justice.

Constitutional Validity of Tribunal

In the judgement of L. Chandra KumarV Union of India, (1995) 1 SCC 400 Supreme Court settled constitutional validity of Article 323A and 323B. In the matter Question in front of the court was that  these provisions are contrary to the power of judicial review given to High Court under Articles 226 and 227 and to the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution. In its judgment Court agreed Tribunals formulated under Article 323A and 323B has the same  power as of judicial review because it has been adopted from the United States and since in United States  there is no blanket prohibition on the conferment of judicial powers upon Courts other than the US Supreme Court. However, Court said that it is important to state that the jurisdiction of the High Court under Article 226 and 227 and of the Supreme Court under Article 32 is retained and the tribunals function only function as supplementary body.

Law Commission Report of 2017

In the report named “Assessment of Statutory Frameworks of Tribunals in India” the matter was referred to commission by Supreme court to examine following matter:

  1. Constitution of tribunals,
  2. Appointment of the chairman and members of tribunals, and
  3. Service conditions of the members of tribunals.

The commission found pendency of the cases which indicates that the objective of the tribunal is not fulfilled. Following data was shared by the commission:

Tribunal Number of pending cases
Central Administrative Tribunal 44,333
Railway Claims Tribunal 45,604
Customs, Excise and Service Tax Appeal Tribunal 90,592
Income Tax Appellate Tribunal 91,538

Following Recommendation were made by the commission:

  1. The commission recommended that there should be uniformity in appointment , tenure and service condition for chairman , vice chairman and members of tribunal.
  2. Appeals against a tribunal’s order should lie before a High Court only where the law establishing such a tribunal does not establish an appellate tribunal
  3. There should be many more benches of tribunal to have access to justice across all geographical area.

In Financial Act,2017 8 tribunal were merged on the basis of similarity of functionality:

  • The Employees Provident Fund Appellate Tribunal with The Industrial Tribunal.
  • The Copyright Board with The Intellectual Property Appellate Board .
  • The Railways Rates Tribunal with The Railways Claims Tribunal.
  • The Appellate Tribunal for Foreign Exchange with The Appellate Tribunal (Smugglers and Foreign Exchange Manipulators (Forfeiture of Property) Act, 1976.
  • The National Highways Tribunal with The Airport Appellate Tribunal.
  • The Cyber Appellate Tribunal and The Airports Economic Regulatory Authority Appellate Tribunal with The Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) .
  • The Competition Appellate Tribunal with the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal.

Conclusion

As tribunal was setup to reduce the burden on the courts but as per the report of law commission there is a need to change the functions of the tribunal to make it more efficient.

Although Tribunals are required for a specialised and effective hearing of technical matters that may at times miss the eye of law in the conventional courts.  So, Tribunal with some efficiency could be the most efficient disputes resolution system in the country.

References

  1. The Importance Of Administrative Tribunals In Legal System And The Issues Being Faced – Legallservicesindia
  2. Indian Kanoon 323A And 323B
  3. Law Commission Report Summary Assessment of Statutory Frameworks of Tribunals in India – Prs india
  4. Tribunals- Drishti.com

 

 

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