The Preamble of the Constitution of India, declares India to be a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic, Republic. In the wisdom of our framers of Constitution, these ingredients were essential to establish a society which is egalitarian and a state which bases itself on the tenets of welfarism. Thus rule of law and the administration of justice; lie at the core of the phenomena of welfare state.
Also with the acceptance of Welfare ideology, there has been a phenomenal increase in the functions of the government, which has lent enormous powers to the executive and also led to increase in the legislative output. This has led to more litigation, restrictions on the freedom of the individuals and constant frictions between them and the authority.
The 42nd Amendment Act 1976 inserted Part XIV-A to the Constitution of India consisting of Articles 323A and 323B. Which led to the establishment of administrative tribunals.
Article 323A: Provides for the establishment of Administrative Tribunals for adjudication or trial of disputes and complaints with respect to recruitment, conditions of service of persons appointed to public services and other allied matters.
Article 323B: Makes provision for the creation of Tribunals for adjudication or trial of disputes, complaints or offences connected with tax, foreign exchange, industrial and labour disputes, land reforms, ceiling on urban property, election to Parliament and State Legislatures, etc. Parliament has power to enact any law under Article 323A while both Parliament and State Legislatures can make laws on matters of Article 323B, subject to their legislative competence.
Administrative Tribunals have emerged not only in India but also in many other countries with the objective of providing a new type of justice - public good oriented justice. These tribunals manned by technical experts, with flexibility in operations, informality in procedures have gained importance in the adjudication process.
Reason for establishment of Tribunals
Administrative tribunals are established for the following reasons:
Advantages of Administrative Tribunal
Administrative adjudication is a dynamic system of administration, which serves, more adequately than any other method, the varied and complex needs of the modem society. The main advantages of the administrative tribunals are:
Administrative adjudication has brought about flexibility and adaptability in the judicial as well as administrative tribunals. For instance, the courts of law exhibit a good deal of conservatism and inelasticity of outlook and approach. The justice they administer may become out of harmony with the rapidly changing social conditions. Administrative adjudication, not restrained by rigid rules of procedure and canons of evidence, can remain in tune with the varying phases of social and economic life.
b) Adequate Justice
In the fast changing world of today, administrative tribunals are not only the most appropriated means of administrative action, but also the most effective means of giving fair justice to the individuals. Lawyers, who are more concerned about aspects of law, find it difficult to adequately assess the needs of the modem welfare society and to locate the individuals place in it.
c) Less Expensive
Administrative justice ensures cheap and quick justice. As against this, procedure in the law courts is long and cumbersome and litigation is costly. It involves payment of huge court fees, engagement of lawyers and meeting of other incidental charges. Administrative adjudication, in most cases, requires no stamp fees. Its procedures are simple and can be easily understood by a layman.
d) Relief to Courts
The system also gives the much-needed relief to ordinary courts of law, which are already overburdened with ordinary suits.
Lacunas in functioning of Tribunals
Firstly, tribunals operate under the thumb of parent administrative ministries against whom many of them are meant to pass orders, therefore remaining at their mercy with visible and invisible strings for facilities, infrastructure and also rule-making.
Secondly, the secretary of the said Ministry sits on the panel for selecting and reappointing the adjudicating members and also has a role to play in disciplinary committees. For instance, the defence secretary is a part of the committee for selection and re-appointment of members of the Armed Forces Tribunal, and the said secretary is that very officer against whom all tribunal orders are to be passed.
Thirdly, under the garb of providing cheaper and informal adjudication, appeals have been provided, on very limited grounds, directly to the Supreme Court from some tribunals making access to justice a far call with some litigants accepting injustice rather than challenging orders simply because they cannot afford prohibitive costs of litigation in the apex court.
Fourthly, persons who at times have served as part of the same ministries are appointed as members and who carry with them their own personal experiences and over-familiarity making justice subjective as compared to judges who bear no such baggage and are trained to be objective.
Fifthly, a majority of non-judicial members are not legally qualified and hence are not even eligible to appear before such tribunals while they are allowed to exercise judicial functions while sitting on the bench.
Sixthly, some tribunals are not even vested with powers of civil contempt thereby leaving them toothless qua enforcement.
Rationalization of tribunals
The Finance Bill, 2017 has proposed for rationalization of the tribunals.
The amendments permit the central government to decide the terms of service including appointments, term of office, salaries and allowances, and removal of tribunal members through rules.
Additionally, the amendments to the Finance Bill, 2017 have done away with seven existing tribunals such as the Airports Economic Regulatory Appellate Authority (AERA). Functions of these tribunals have been transferred to existing tribunals. For example, the functions of the AERA have been transferred to the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT). This implies that TDSAT will now also have to decide upon matters related to pricing of airport services. The question is whether the TDSAT has the technical competence to deal with such diverse issues. Similarly, it is unclear if the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, which will replace the Competition Appellate Tribunal, will have the expertise to deal with matters related to anti-competitive practices.
Criticism of Rationalisation