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Orders of constitutional courts would prevail over statutory tribunals: SC

  • Category
  • Published
    6th Jun, 2022

Context

In a recent development, the Supreme Court set aside a National Green Tribunal order prohibiting construction work at Rushikonda hills in Visakhapatnam, saying orders of ‘constitutional courts would prevail over statutory tribunals’.

About

Key-points made by the court

  • The National Green Tribunal or NGT is subordinate to the high court in so far as territorial jurisdiction is concerned.
  • The conflicting orders passed by the NGT and the high court would lead to an anomalous situation.
  • The authorities would be faced with difficulty which orders to follow. In such a case orders from the Constitutional court would prevail over statutory tribunals.
  • Thus the continuation of proceedings before the NGT for the same which is also seized with the high court cause of action cannot proceed in interest of justice.
  • We, therefore, quash and set aside the proceedings before the NGT.
  • The top court, however, said though development is necessary for economic development of a nation, it’s equally necessary to safeguard the environment to preserve pollution free environment for future generations.

What are Tribunals?

  • Tribunals are judicial or quasi-judicial institutions established by law.
  • They intend to provide a platform for faster adjudication as compared to traditional courts, as well as expertise on certain subject matters.

Constitutional Backing

  • In 1976, Articles 323A and 323B were inserted in the Constitution of India through the 42nd Amendment.  
  • Article 323A empowered Parliament to constitute administrative Tribunals (both at central and state level) for adjudication of matters related to recruitment and conditions of service of public servants.  
  • Article 323B specified certain subjects (such as taxation and land reforms) for which Parliament or state legislatures may constitute tribunals by enacting a law.
    • In 2010, the Supreme Court clarified that the subject matters under Article 323B are not exclusive, and legislatures are empowered to create tribunals on any subject matters under their purview as specified in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution

What are the reasons behind constitution of Tribunals?

  • Pendency of cases in courts is one of the key challenges faced by the judicial system.
  • In certain technical cases, the traditional courts need expert knowledge for adjudication.

Why tribunal cannot be considered as court?

  • This term ‘court’ has not been defined in any of the statutes.
  • However, on the basis of judicial ruling in case of S D Ghatage v. State of Maharashtra, these are the basic characteristics of a Court:
    1. It is an adjudicating body.
    2. It performs a judicial function of rendering definite judgments having finality.
    3. The judgment binds the parties litigating before it.
    4. They derive their power from the state.

On the basis of these characteristics the tribunal is a court.

Court

Tribunal

Courts take all kinds of matter except those which are expressly excluded and are independent of any statues

Tribunals take only specific matters mentioned under the statues under which they have been made and thus are dependent on the statues.

Courts work on a bigger area.

Tribunals work on a narrow area of work as compared to Courts

Courts are required to follow all the rules and procedures mentioned under CRPC.

Tribunals are not obliged to do so.

The Court are required to decide on the basis of each and every evidence presented in the Court.

Tribunals have just to keep in mind the Principle of Justice and decide the matter.

Debate around the structure of tribunal

  • These debates basically revolve around few basis presumptions. The fundamental presumption is that the Tribunal is not a Court. Hence the powers of the Courts are not available to the Tribunal.
  • Since it is not a Court, it has no inherent powers.
  • The Tribunal is a mere fact finding body, it cannot order anything apart from what has been stated in the statute.
  • It cannot order anything in the name of doing complete justice.
  • The Tribunal cannot enforce its orders like a Court, which can enforce its decrees.
  • Tribunal is a creature of a statute and hence it cannot go beyond the words of the statute.
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