Supreme Court seeks status of vacancies in Tribunals

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On Monday, the Supreme Court directed the Centre to provide information by Thursday on vacancies across tribunals and stages at which the appointment processes are held up. The direction came as the court expressed displeasure over inaction in filling vacancies at the National Green Tribunal (NGT) despite the approval for them from the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC).

“We need concrete data on the names cleared by the search-cum-selection committee on not just the National Green Tribunal (NGT) but the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, Armed Forces Tribunal, etc,” said a bench of Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari.

The court was hearing a petition filed by the NGT Bar Association (Western Zone) highlighting vacancies at the tribunal even as the NGT Act provides for a maximum of 20 judicial and 20 technical members as the tribunal’s ideal strength. The tribunal should not have less than 10 members from the judicial and technical sides at any given time.

“…there are only five members (three judicial and two expert members) besides Chairperson at the Principal Bench, Delhi, and the pendency of cases at the tribunal has scaled the 2,500-mark,” said lawyer Raj Panjwani, who represented the association.

The Supreme Court suggested a change in the composition of the search-cum-selection committees, which recommend names for appointment of chairpersons and members of tribunals, under the Tribunals, Appellate Tribunal, and Other Authorities (Qualification, Conditions of Service of Members) Rules in November. This came as the court was considering the validity of rules for filling up posts in tribunals across the country.

“In case the search-cum-selection committees have made recommendations after conducting selections in accordance with the 2020 Rules, appointments shall be made within three months from today and shall not be subject matter of challenge on the ground that they are not in accord with this judgment,” the court said.

In an affidavit filed in January, the Centre told the court that seven names had been cleared for NGT appointments to bring it in conformity with the November judgment. The search-cum-selection committee cleared their names in September following which ACC approval came in December.

Additional Solicitor General N Venkataraman told the court that he required three weeks to compile data on all tribunals where appointments were held up despite clearance of names.

“All the orders we have passed are going down the drain. All tribunals are waiting for appointments. Almost every month, new vacancies are getting created. You [Centre] have to sort out this matter. If the selection process is complete, you must take it to the logical conclusion,” the court said and posted the matter for hearing on Thursday.

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