SC Slams Union Govt for 'Cherry Picking' Names from Selected List for Tribunal Appointments

'In service law, you can't go to the waitlist ignoring the select list. What kind of selection and appointment is this?'

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday, September 15, said that the manner in which the Union government has made appointments to tribunals clearly indicates a “cherry picking” of names.

The court expressed grave dissatisfaction with appointments at the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal and Income Tax Appellate Tribunal and the manner in which they were made.

The apex court also took a dim view of the large number of remaining vacancies and asked the Centre to make appointments within two weeks to the tribunals which are facing a severe crunch of presiding officers as well as judicial and technical members, and apprise it of reasons if persons from the recommended list are left out in the process.

A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and L. Nageswara Rao said the condition is pitiable at the tribunals due to the vacancies and the litigants cannot be left in the lurch.

Last week, the apex court had raised concerns, saying the Centre was “emasculating” tribunals by not appointing officials to the quasi-judicial bodies that are facing staff crunch.

“The appointment letters which have been issued clearly indicate they have selected cherry picking three names from the select list and others from the waitlist, ignoring others in the select list. In service law, you can’t go to the waitlist ignoring the select list. What kind of selection and appointment is this?” the bench asked the Attorney General K.K. Venugopal.

Venugopal told the bench that the Centre would make appointments in two weeks from the list of persons recommended by the search and selection committee.

Senior advocate Arvind Datar said that for the ITAT, while the search-cum-selection committee selected 41 people, only 13 were chosen on a basis which “we don’t know”.

“This is nothing new. Every time it is the same story,” the bench said.

Also read: ‘Fill Vacancies or Shut Them’: SC Hauls Up Union Govt Over ‘Sorry’ State of Tribunals

The CJI said the Supreme Court judges undertook an elaborate exercise to shortlist the names during the pandemic and its efforts are going in vain.

“We travelled across the country. We spent a lot of time. During COVID, your government requested us to conduct interviews as early as possible. We wasted so much time,” the CJI said.

The CJI highlighted that five of those selected as judicial members are already 64 years old and have tenure of 65 years. He said, “Which judge will go to join this job for one year?”

The AG then pointed out that the judges will have the job till they are 67, according to Indian Express.

On the issue of non-acceptance of names recommended by the selection committee, Venugopal said the government has the power not to accept the recommendations made. To this, the bench disagreed.

“We are a democratic country in which rule of law is followed and we are working under the constitution. You can’t say that I don’t accept,” the CJI said.

“What is the sanctity of the process if the government has the last word? Selection committee undertakes an elaborate process to short-list the names,” the bench said.

There are around 250 posts lying vacant in various key tribunals and appellate tribunals across the country.

The top court was hearing a clutch of petitions on the issue of vacancies in tribunals and the new law governing quasi-judicial bodies.

NCLAT appointment

The Supreme Court bench also slammed the “hurried” appointment of Justice M. Venugopal as Acting Chairperson of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal and asked AG Venugopal to take instructions on the issue for the September 16 hearing.

“I am in advance telling you (AG) to appear tomorrow, it’s regarding premature retirement of Justice Cheema as NCLAT Chairman. It appears he has been replaced. It says that 10 days before his retirement Mr Cheema, NCLAT chairman, hurriedly Mr Venugopal was appointed. I don’t know how this is happening,” the bench said.

The Centre on Saturday, September 11, approved the proposal for appointment of eight judicial members and 10 technical members in the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT).

Justice M. Venugopal was appointed as the Acting Chairperson of the NCLAT, as the key appellate tribunal continues to be without a permanent head now for more than one-and-a-half years.

(With PTI inputs)