Tribunals in India: Constitutional Provisions

Tribunals were added in the Constitution by Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976 as Part XIV-A, which has only two articles viz. 323-A and 323-B. While article 323-A deals with Administrative Tribunals; article 323-B deals with tribunals for other matters. In general sense, the ‘tribunals’ are not courts of normal jurisdiction, but they have very specific and predefined work area. The administrative tribunals are not original invention of the Indian Political System. They are well established in all democratic countries of Europe as well as United States of America.

Definition of Administrative Tribunal

An administrative Tribunal is a multimember body to hear on cases filed by the staff members alleging non-observation of their terms of service or any other related matters and to pass judgments on those cases.

Need for Administrative Tribunals

We all know that the government employs a large work force to carry out its diverse activities. Managing such a large number of personnel is a herculean task. Most of the government employees are better educated and enough aware to be insistent on their rights.

There are times when the disputes between the employer (Government) and employees over service matters can arise. This may also lead to litigation between the employees and the government.  An employee can though approach the court for redressal of grievances for, the protection of the law is guaranteed to every citizen including government servants. But the judiciary is already overburdened with cases. Then, the court procedure is extremely cumbersome, costly and time-consuming. Due to the huge number of employees, the judicial remedy stands practically ruled out and there was a need for some alternative forum.

Thus, the basic objective of the administrative tribunals is to take out certain matters of disputes between the citizen and government agencies of purview of the regular courts of law and make the dispute redressal process quick and less expensive.

The Administrative Reforms Commission (1966-70) had recommended the setting up of ‘Civil Service Tribunals’ to function as final appellate authorities in respect of orders inflicting the major punishments of dismissal, removal from service and reduction in rank. At around same time, J.C. Shah Committee had also recommended the establishment of an administrative tribunal to adjudicate on service matters.

In one of the judgments, the Supreme Court of India observed that civil servants need not waste their time in fighting battles in the regular law courts and suggested the establishment of such tribunals.

Jurisdiction of tribunals in service matters

According to Article 323A, administrative tribunals can adjudicate the disputes and complaints with respect to the recruitment and conditions of service of persons appointed to public services and posts at

  • Union Level
  • State Level as well as
  • Any local or other authority within the territory of India.

Establishment of Tribunals

Article 323A provides that a law made by the parliament may provide for establishment of an Administrative Tribunal for the Union and a separate Administrative Tribunal for each state or two or more states.  These tribunals exclude the jurisdiction of all courts except the special jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in Article 136.  The matters for these tribunals are as follows:

  • Recruitment and conditions of service of persons appointed to public services in Union as well as States as well as Local authorities
  • Recruitment and conditions of service of persons appointed to any corporation owned or controlled by the Government.

Tribunals by State Legislatures

Article 323 B empowers the parliament or state legislatures to set up tribunals for matters other than those mentioned above. The matters to be covered by such tribunals are as follows:

  • Levy, assessment, collection and enforcement of any tax
  • Foreign exchange, import and export across customs frontiers;
  • Industrial and labour disputes;
  • Matters connected with Land reforms covered by Article 31A
  • Ceiling on urban property;
  • Elections to either House of Parliament or the House or either House of the Legislature of a State, but excluding the matters which include
  • Delimitation of constituencies
  • Matters which can be only questions via election petition. This means that some election matters where courts have been barred cannot be questions in tribunals also.
  • Production, procurement, supply and distribution of food-stuffs (including edible oilseeds and oils) and such other goods as the President may, by public notification, declare to be essential goods

Administrative Tribunals Act 1985

Using the powers conferred by the Article 323A of the Constitution, Parliament passed a law to establish the Administrative tribunals in India.  The Administrative Tribunals Act 1985 provides for adjudication or trial of disputes and complaints with respect to recruitment and conditions of service of public servants.

  • The act has made provisions for the Central Administrative Tribunal for the Centre and a State Administrative Tribunal for a particular State.
  • In addition, the Act also provides for the establishment of Joint Administrative Tribunals to hear cases from more than one State.
  • The Act was amended shortly thereafter to constitute a Common administrative Tribunal between the Centre and the State.
  • The Administrative Tribunals were thus, established in November, 1985 at Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta and Allahabad.
  • Today, there are 17 Benches of the Tribunal located throughout the country wherever the seat of a High Court is located, with 33 Division Benches.
  • In addition, circuit sittings are held at Nagpur, Goa, Aurangabad, Jammu, Shimla, Indore, Gwalior, Bilaspur, Ranchi, Pondicherry, Gangtok, Port Blair, Shillong, Agartala, Kohima, Imphal, Itanagar, Aizwal and Nainital.

Central Administrative Tribunal: Important Notes

Its function is to adjudicate the disputes with respect to recruitment and conditions of service of persons appointed to public services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or state or other local authorities within the territory of India or under the control of Government of India. In addition to Central Government employees, the Government of India has notified 45 other organizations to bring them within the jurisdiction of the Central Administrative Tribunal.  The provisions of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 do not apply to the following:

  • Members of paramilitary forces
  • Armed forces of the Union
  • Officers or employees of the Supreme Court
  • Persons appointed to the Secretariat Staff of either House of Parliament or the Secretariat staff of State/Union Territory Legislatures.
  • The CAT is headed by a chairman who must be either a sitting or a retired Judge of a High Court.
  • Other than Chairman, there are 16 Vice-Chairmen and 49 Members.
  • The principle bench is located at New Delhi

Please note that Central Administrative Tribunal enjoys the status and powers of a High Court. However, Government employees not satisfied with CAT orders on their service matters can appeal in High Courts, followed by appeal in Supreme Court. We note here that the law commission had recommended that the appeals should go straight to the Supreme Court; however, this remains just a proposal as of now. In disposing of its cases, the Tribunal observes the canons, principles and norms of ‘natural justice’.

Tribunals in various States

Many states in India have established the Tribunals. In some states, the decisions and judgments are binding upon the state Government. In some states such as Andhra Pradesh, the judgments of Tribunals are binding on the State Government unless nullified by the latter within a period of two months. In some states the Tribunals have taken away the jurisdiction of the respective high courts in service matters, while in some other states, they do not abridge or ban the jurisdiction of the High Court concerned.

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