The Supreme Court today criticised the government for “cherry picking” from its recommendations for tribunals across the country. The government has been given two weeks to complete tribunal appointments with the Supreme Court sternly saying: “Return with the appointment letters…and if someone is not appointed, then cite the reason.”
“We are a democratic country. You have to follow the rule of law,” Chief Justice NV Ramana said during the hearing in a series of sharp remarks.
“I have seen the NCLT (National Company Law Tribunal) appointments…. more recommendations were made. But in (the) appointments, cherry picking was done. What kind of selection is this? And the same thing (has been) done with (the) ITAT (Income Tax Appellate Tribunal) members also. We are very unhappy with how the decisions are being taken,” the Chief Justice said.
“I am also part of the NCLT Selection Committee. We interviewed 544 people… out of which we gave the names of 11 judicial members and 10 technical members. From all of these recommendations, only some of them were appointed by the government… rest of the names went to (the) wait list,” he added.
To this, Attorney General KK Venugopal replied: “The government is entitled to not follow certain recommendations”.
The Chief Justice underscored that the government’s approach “is very unfortunate”. “We travelled throughout the country to conduct interviews. We wasted our time? We travelled in the midst of Covid because the government (had) requested us to carry out the interviews,” he said.
A three-judge bench of Chief Justice Ramana, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice L Nageswara Rao was hearing the matter.
“What is the sanctity of the selection committee (which is headed by Supreme Court Judges) if the government is going to have the last say? The selections that we conducted will become useless,” Justice L Nageswara Rao said.
“People are left in lurch. When they go to the high courts, they are told to go to tribunals. But there are vacancies in tribunals,” said Justice DY Chandrachud
Last week, the Supreme Court gave a one-week ultimatum to the government to fill the vacancies in tribunals, or quasi-judicial bodies, across the country. Chief Justice NV Ramana said “we feel the government has no respect for this court” and warned “you (the government) are testing our patience”.
“We are upset… but we don’t want confrontation with the government,” the Chief Justice said, to which Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, replied: “Government doesn’t want confrontation either”.
“Vacancies in critical tribunals like NCLT (National Company Law Tribunal) and NCLAT (National Company Law Appellate Tribunal)… they are important for the economy. Vacancies also in armed forces and consumer tribunals are leading to delays in resolution of cases,” the court said.
The Supreme Court also issued a notice, asking the centre to file its counter affidavit in two weeks.
Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh had filed a petition to declare unconstitutional provisions of the Tribunal Reforms Act of 2021, which revives an ordinance struck down by the Supreme Court.
Mr Ramesh said the law, which abolishes nine key tribunals, “raises a serious threat to judicial independence by giving the government sweeping powers regarding appointments, service conditions, and salaries of members of key tribunals.”