Tribunals in India – their jurisdiction and working

Tribunals are quasi-judicial bodies created for expeditious clearing of a particular type of cases. They were required as the courts did not have the required specialisation to deal with matters such as finance and telecom. Let us see their legal basis, their powers, and how are they different from the judicial courts.

Legal basis of Tribunals:

There are various statutory tribunals in India, established by the parliament under the powers conferred upon it by the Article 323A (Administrative Tribunals) and Article 323B (Tribunals for other matters) of the Constitution of India. These Articles were added to the constitution as part of the 42nd Constitution Amendment Act, 1976.

Tribunals vs. Courts

Tribunals are not as independent as courts. Tribunals are constituted by the executive arm of the government, in lines with the concerned law enacted by the legislature. Their manner of appointment, service conditions, procedure followed, etc are directly influenced by the concerned ministry in the government. Yet, their objective is common with the courts, i.e. to provide speedy justice.

Can tribunals take action against the government?

Tribunals such as NGT have a quasi-judicial status, giving them the powers to stop executive orders and order punitive action. Thus, even though tribunals are formed by the executive, they have considerable powers as they derive their authority from the law passed by the parliament.

List of Tribunals in India:

  • National Green Tribunal
    • NGT was established under the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 to handle the expeditious disposal of cases related to environmental issues.
    • NST is not bound by the procedure laid down under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, but is guided by principles of natural justice.
    • NGT is mandated to dispose the applications or appeals within six months.
    • Principal bench of NGT is in New Delhi, and regional benches are established in Pune (Western Zone bench), Bhopal (Central Zone bench), Chennai (Southern Zone Bench), Kolkata (Eastern Zone bench)
  • Competition Appellate Tribunal
    • It hears appeals against decisions of Competition Commission of India
    • Decisions of this tribunal can be challenged only in Supreme Court.
    • Setup by the Competition Act, 2002.
  • National Company Law Appellate Tribunal
    • Established under the Companies Act 2013
    • quasi-judicial body that adjudicates issues relating to companies in India
    • its decisions may be appealed to the SC
    • functions under Ministry of Corporate Affairs
  • Securities Appellate Tribunal
    • established Under Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, 1992.
    • hears appeals against decisions of SEBI
  • Debt Recovery Tribunal
    • under Ministry of Finance to facilitate debt recovery involving banks.
  • Armed Forces Tribunal
    • associated ministry – Ministry of Defence
    • established under The Armed Forces Tribunal Act, 2007
    • has jurisdiction over the three Armed Forces of the Union
  • Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal
    • set up by TRAI Act to hear appeals against TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India)
  • Appellate Tribunal under Electricity Act
    • established under the Electricity Act, 2003 to hear appeals against Central Electricity Authority

Criticism of the current tribunal system:

Many argue that rampant tribunalisation by the parliament has damaged jurisdiction of the high courts. Tribunals have replaced high courts for disputes under various acts. For most of the tribunals, any person aggrieved by an order of the tribunal can directly appeal to the Supreme Court, side-stepping the high courts; an exception is Administrative tribunals, the appeals from which first go to the concerned high court. The present tribunal system is thus accused of over-burdening the Supreme Court, while side-stepping the high courts.

Many also argue that tribunals have reduced access to justice as they are located at very limited places, for example the National Green Tribunal has only four regional benches other than the principal bench. This has made justice expensive and inaccessible.

Critics of the tribunal system suggest that instead of the tribunals, in-house specialisation should be developed within the judiciary. Funding and support to the judiciary should be enhanced to expedite the cases, instead of side-stepping the judiciary altogether.

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