The Supreme Court on Wednesday took objection to the manner in which the Central government recently cleared appointments to various tribunals. A special bench headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana noted that the recommendations made by Search and Selection Committees (SCSCs) were acted upon in an unsatisfactory manner with certain candidates being cherry picked by the government while others were kept on hold.
"SCSC recommended nine judicial members and ten technical members for National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT). The appointment letter issued that as if members were cherry picked and some were kept on waiting. We cannot ignore selected candidates and go to waitlist. What type of selection and appointment is this," the CJI demanded.
The same thing has happened with Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT), he added.
SCSCs are headed by various Supreme Court judges who shortlist candidates for appointment and then send it to the government for clearance.
The Court was hearing a batch of petitions highlighting the vacancies in various tribunals besides challenging the Tribunal Reforms Act, 2021 laying down the tenures and other service conditions of tribunal members.
The Court had on September 6 come down upon the government for its failure to fill vacancies and given an ultimatum to the government to act on the recommendations made by SCSC or face contempt of court. Senior Advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for one of the petitioners said only 13 members have been appointed to ITAT.
Attorney General KK Venugopal, representing the Central government maintained that the government has the power to not accept a recommendation by the SCSC. "It was held in the UPSC case that Centre can decide not to accept. We have acted as per the judgment. We have gone to wait list after exhausting the main list. Thus, no recommendations are pending for 6 tribunals," he submitted. The CJI however said that the Court is very unhappy with how the Centre was acting upon the recommendations. He also highlighted the efforts by SCSCs during COVID period to zero in on candidates. Importantly, the Court issued notice on the plea by Madras Bar Association challenging the validity of Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021. On the issue of assigning a bench for the Debt Recovery Tribunal bench of Jabalpur to Lucknow, Supreme Court sought to know the status of assurances made by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta during the previous hearing.
"How does a litigant engage a new lawyer from Jabalpur to Lucknow? Kerala HC had quashed the transfer of jurisdiction outside state. this has national ramification. Six months have passed after this judgment and it was not even challenged," remarked Justice Chandrachud. Advocate Siddharth R Gupta appearing for the petitioner, State Bar Council of Madhya Pradesh agued that the mechanism was "crippled."
"There is a bench of Armed forces tribunal is in Madhya Pradesh. It is lying vacant because it is not filled up. The DRT cases can be taken up there too. Lucknow bench has said Jabalpur cases will be taken up only when physical files are filed. It's crippled," said Gupta.
CJI NV Ramana later observed that the issue is similar all across the country and he hoped that appointments will be made in the next two weeks.
"Both states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, there is no bench for DRT too so they went to West Bengal. Now they have to go to Lucknow since members are not there in Bengal too," observed CJI Ramana.