'Fill Vacancies or Shut Them': SC Hauls Up Union Govt Over 'Sorry' State of Tribunals

There are vacancies for the posts of 20 presiding officers, 110 judicial members and 111 technical members across various tribunals in the country.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday, August 6, asked the Centre whether it wants to continue running tribunals or shut them down completely, exasperated over the large number of vacancies which virtually make them defunct, Indian Express has reported.

Calling it a “sorry state of affairs”, a two-judge bench comprising Chief Justice N.V. Ramana pointed out that there are vacancies of 20 presiding officers, 110 judicial members and 111 technical members across various tribunals in the country.

“We don’t know what is the stand as you want to continue to tribunals or close it down?” Ramana asked solicitor general Tushar Mehta.

Justice Surya Kant, another judge on the bench, asked the Union government to come up with a stance over tribunals in a week and said otherwise the court would be compelled to “call all top officers across the country to appear before” it.

The judges made the above remarks while dealing with two petitions concerning tribunals. One of them was filed in the wake of Union government notification transferring the jurisdiction of Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT), Jabalpur to DRT, Lucknow, because the Jabalpur one has no presiding officer. The second petition sought the establishment of the Goods and Services Appellate Tribunal.

Also read: Why Is it So Hard to Fill up the Judicial Vacancies in Our Courts?

The CJI pointed out that the registry of the government had shown that 15 tribunals have no chairperson or members. “There are tribunals where there are vacancies of presiding officers. In Telecom Disputes Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), no one is there. In National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) also, judicial and administrative vacancies are there,” Ramana informed.

Responding to judges’ remarks, the solicitor general said the issue pertaining to DRT Jabalpur was true, and said if a tribunal is not there in some area, it cannot be entrusted with some other tribunal located elsewhere. He agreed that the proposed shifting of DRT Jabalpur to DRT Lucknow was mistakenly done. As for the filling up of vacancies and non-appointment to tribunals, he blamed it on pending cases.

However, the CJI pointed out to “some lobbies” that, according to him, were working against filling vacancies in tribunals. On the other hand, Justice Surya Kant said, “You cannot make the tribunals defunct…If you want it to continue, then fill the vacancies.”

In response to the court’s remarks that it will have to summon officers if the Union government does not take a stance on the issue in a week, Mehta said “that will not be needed” and sought 10 days’ time. Granting 10 days’ time, the court scheduled the next hearing of the matter on August 16.