Administrative Tribunals In India

India is the largest democracy in the world. It is governed by the Constitution of India (1950) (hereinafter referred to as the “Constitution”), which is also referred to as the grundnorm. In order to ensure smooth functioning, the power of the State has been divided into three organs- Judiciary, Executive, and Legislature.

Article 50 of the Constitution incorporates the principle of separation of power. Accordingly, Legislature has the duty to make laws, the executive has the duty to enforce laws and the judiciary has the duty to ensure justiciability of the laws so formed. Theoretically, the division can be thought to be infallible. However, when it comes to the execution of separation of power, a lot of issues crop up.

It was often noticed that the executive is in a better position to adjudge internal discrepancies. Thus, the Executive is given some judicial power. Similarly, it was observed that many times the judiciary is in a better position to make laws (Eg. laws relating to the procedure of the High Courts and subordinate courts are made by the High Courts themselves). Thus, in multiple areas, there is overlapping of power and the doctrine of separation of powers is not strictly followed.

That being said, even if the executive is given the power to adjudicate upon their own issues by forming disciplinary committees, they still need to follow the basic principles of natural justice laid down by the law. In case the executive doesn’t follow the principles of natural justice while exercising judicial power, some recourse must also be given to the aggrieved party. This is where the role of tribunals comes in.

What Is A Tribunal?

Tribunals are specialized courts which are given the power to adjudicate upon certain matters. The primary purpose of the introduction of tribunals in India is two-fold. Firstly, courts in India are extremely overburdened with pending matters. A tribunal comes to the rescue of the overburdened judiciary by taking off from the judge’s table some specialized cases. Moreover, the procedure followed by the tribunals is that of a summary proceeding. Thus, there is also speedy disposal of cases. Secondly, the judges cannot be expected to have infallible expertise in all the areas of law. A tribunal member is selected in such a manner that he/ she has expertise in the particular area of law and can therefore use his personal expertise while administering justice. This promotes the acceptability of the pronouncement as technical aspects can also be taken into account.

What Is An Administrative Tribunal?

With the development of law, a number of specialized tribunals have developed in India. These include inter alia, the National Green Tribunal, the National Company Law Tribunal, the Securities Appellant Tribunal. However, the topic of our discussion is Administrative Tribunals in India.

An Administrative Tribunal is a quasi-judicial body created by a statute to adjudicate upon the questions of administrative matters laid before it. The existence of an administrative tribunal doesn’t oust the jurisdiction of a High Court of the Supreme Court but the idea is to create an additional forum, designed to lessen the burden of cases on the ordinary courts of justice.[1]

Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985

In pursuance of Article 323A of the Constitution, the Parliament passed the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 (hereinafter referred to as the “Act”). The aim of the act is to establish an Administrative Tribunal for the union (Central Administrative Tribunals) and separate tribunals for the States (State Administrative Tribunals). It was noted by the Parliament that the establishment of an Administrative Tribunal has become necessary since a large number of cases related to service matters are pending before various courts.[2]

As per Section 2 of the Act, the general rule of the applicability of the Act is that it applies to all the Central and State Government Employees. It was held in the cases of Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan v. Subhas Sharma[3] that the act applies to all the central government servants and others posted in the state of Jammu and Kashmir as well. In this regard, the Central Administrative Tribunal would have exclusive jurisdiction in the first instance.

However, Section 2 also lays down three exceptions to the rule. The Act will not be applicable to the members of the armed forces of the Union[4], Officers of the Supreme Court or any High Court, Secretariat staff of either House of the Parliament.

In the case of Surinder Nath v. Union of India[5]  it was held that the Delhi Police Force is not an Armed Force of the Union. It also laid down that the following forces are covered by the expression “Armed Forces of the Union”-

  1. Central Reserve Police Force
  2. Central Industrial Security Force
  3. Border Security Force
  4. Indo- Tibetian Border Police
  5. General Reserve Engineering Force

Service Matters

Section 3(1)(q) of the Act lays down the definition of service matters. It states that in relation to a person, means all matters relating to the conditions of his service in connection with the affairs of the Union or of any State or of any local or other authority within the territory of India or under the control of the Government of India, or, as the case may be, of any corporation or society owned or controlled by the Government, as respects—

(i) remuneration (including allowances), pension and other retirement benefits;

(ii) tenure including confirmation, seniority, promotion, reversion, premature retirement and superannuation;

(iii) leave of any kind;

(iv) disciplinary matters; or

(v) any other matter whatsoever;

In the case of Bashnurbi v. Divisional Accounts Officer[6] that service matters are which must be in relation to the person who approaches the Court or Tribunal as the case may be.

In the case of Praduman Singh Bhalla v. Union of India[7], it was held that where the petitioner was serving in the Department of Revenue which is a part and parcel of the Ministry of Finance, Government of India. He is thus a Central Government employee. Once he has rendered service under the Union of India any issue raised by him is a service matter within the meaning of the said term in the Act.

Establishment Of Administrative Tribunals in India

The Central Government is empowered to establish a Central Administrative Tribunal[8], State Administrative Tribunal[9] or a Joint Administrative Tribunal[10]. Furthermore, there must be a permanent bench or if there is not sufficient work, then a circuit bench of the Tribunal at every place where there is a seat of the High Court[11]

Section 5 of the Act lays down the Composition of the Administrative Tribunals. Each Tribunal shall consist of a Chairman and a such number of Judicial and Administrative members as the appropriate government may deem fit.[12] The Tribunal shall consist of one Judicial Member and one Administrative Member.[13] However, as per Section 5(6) there can also be a single-member bench to discharge the functions of the tribunal.

Section 5(6) of the Administrative Tribunal Act, 1985 was held to be constitutionally valid in the landmark judgement of L. Chandra Kumar v. Union of India[14]. However, at the same time, it was held that where a question involving the interpretation of a statutory provision or rule in relation to the Constitution arises for the consideration of a Single Member Bench of the Administrative Tribunal, the proviso to the Section 5(6) will automatically apply and the Chairman or the Member concerned shall refer the matter to a bench consisting of at least two members, one of whom must be a judicial member.[15]

In the case of S. Manoharan v. Deputy Registrar, Central Administrative Tribunal[16] it was held that in a bench of more than two members constituted by the chairperson of the Administrative Tribunal, the number of administrative members cannot exceed the number of Judicial Members. A bench of more than three members cannot be overloaded with Administrative Members.

Jurisdiction Of Administrative Tribunals In India

The jurisdiction of the Central Administrative Tribunal has been discussed under Section 14 of the Act. The CAT is empowered to deal with all the service matters pertaining to

(i) a member of All India Service

(ii) a person [not being a member of an All-India Service or a person referred to in clause (c)] appointed to any civil service of the Union or any civil post under the Union; or

(iii) a civilian [not being a member of an All-India Service or a person referred to in clause (c)] appointed to any defence services or a post connected with defence, and pertaining to the service of such member, person or civilian, in connection with the affairs of the Union or of any State or of any local or other authority within the territory of India or under the control of the Government of India or of any corporation or society owned or controlled by the Government;

In the case of Union of India v. SL Abbas[17] it was held that the jurisdiction of CAT being similar to that of High Courts under Article 226 in service matters, is subject to the same constraints and norms which the High Courts observe. The tribunal cannot sit over its own judgment as an appellant authority.[18] Thus, the order of the Tribunal cannot be challenged before the High Court.[19]

Similarly, the jurisdiction of the SAT is laid down under Section 15.

Appeal from the Order of an Administrative Tribunal

An appeal from the order of punishment passed by the Administrative Tribunals in India lies only with the Supreme Court and not with a Bench of two or more members of the Tribunal.[20]

Power of Administrative Tribunal to Review its Decision

Section 22(3)(f) grants the Administrative Tribunal the power to review its own decision. However, this power is very limited. It was held in the case of Subhash v. State of Maharashtra[21] that a Tribunal could only interfere in the matter if the error pointed out is plain and apparent. It was held in the case of Ajit Kumar Rath v. State of Orissa[22] that power of review available to the tribunal under Section 22(3)(f) is not absolute and is the same as given to a court under Section 114 and O47R1, CPC.

It was held in the case of Gopabandhu Biswal v. Krishna Chandra Mohanty[23] that review of the decision of the Tribunal after the dismissal of SLP by the Supreme Court is not permissible, nor can any party not party to the main petition urge the matter again by review.

Manner of Decision Making

Section 26 lays down that all the decisions are to be taken by majority members. It also makes it clear that if the members of the bench differ in opinion on any point and the members are equally divided, they shall state the point or points on which they differ and make a reference to the Chairman who shall either hear the point or points himself and refer the case for hearing by one or more of the other members of the tribunal and thereafter, as per the majority view, the matter shall be decided including the views of earlier members who heard the matter.[24]

Role of Administrative Tribunals in Interpretation of a Statute

Exercising its quasi-judicial power, more often than not, the Administrative tribunals in India are put in a position where they need to interpret the statute. Such interpretations cannot be kept outside the power of review of the Supreme Court of India, it being the Apex Court.

In the case of L. Chandra Kumar v. Union of India[25] it was held that exclusion of jurisdiction of the High Court and the Supreme Court under Article 323A and 323B was unconstitutional simply due to the skepticism of entrusting an administrative tribunal with the finality of a decision. Similarly, in the case of Sudhakar Prasad v. Government of Andhara Pradesh[26] it was held that the decisions of the administrative tribunals in India are appealable to the Supreme Court under Article 136 of the Constitution. The reason was that as a body of the judicial character, it is only logical to incorporate it within the scheme of courts of jurisdiction.

The decision of an administrative tribunal becomes equivalent to the decision of a lower court and is subject to the judicial determination of the higher court. Thus, the Supreme Court cannot turn its back on administrative matters owing to the existence of a specialized quasi-judicial body.

Power of Administrative Tribunal to Delegate

In the case of State of W.B. v. Subhash Kumar Chatterjee[27], it was held that the Supreme Court on more than one occasion has decried such practices adopted by the tribunals directing applications filed before them to be treated as representations before the executive authorities for their decision on merits. It is for the tribunals that are empowered to examine services disputes on merits. Such delegation of power apart from being illegal and unconstitutional amounts to avoidance of constitutional duties and functions to decide such disputes which are exclusively entrusted to them by law.

Right of Judicial Review of the decisions of an Administrative Tribunal

Section 28 of the Act excludes the jurisdiction of all the courts except the Supreme Court and the Industrial Tribunal and Labour Court established under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. In the case of A.K. Behera v. Union of India[28] it was held that the tribunal has the power of judicial review. Judicial review is a basic and essential feature of the Constitution and no law passed by Parliament in the exercise of its constituent power can abrogate it or take it away. If the power of judicial review is abrogated or taken away, the Constitution will cease to be what it is.

However, it was also held in the case of S.P. Sampath v. Union of India[29] that by the virtue of Section 28 the power of judicial review of the High Court under Article 226 and 227 have been excluded. But it has not excluded the judicial review wholly as much as the jurisdiction of the apex court under Articles 32 and 136 has been kept intact.

Conclusion

An Administrative Tribunal is set up in pursuance of Article 323A of the Constitution. It is governed by the Administrative Tribunal Act, 1985 which sets up two types of Administrative Tribunals in India- CAT and SAT. Their procedure is governed by the strict rules of CPC but they are bound by the principles of natural justice. Thus, their decisions are subject to Judicial review. The scope of the Administrative Tribunal is limited to Government Employees wrt to service matters, as defined under Section 3(1)(q) of the Act.

The Administrative Tribunal plays an important role in the interpretation of Statutes. It has also helped to lessen the burden of an over-burdened judiciary and reduced delayed decision-making. At the same time, it has rendered expertise various decisions on service matters. Thus, it has played an important role in the development of the jurisprudence of Service Law in India.

[1] K.K. Dutta v. Union of India, AIR 1980 SC 2056

[2] Statement of Objects, The Administrative Tribunals in India.

[3] (2002) 4 SCC 141.

[4] Mohd. Ansari v. Union of India, (2017) 3 SCC 740.

[5] (1986) 1 ATC 656 (CAT) (ND).

[6] (1992) 1 Mah LJ 14

[7] 2017 SCC OnLine Bom 3125

[8] Section 4 (1), The Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985.

[9] Section 4(2), The Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985.

[10] Section 4(3), The Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985.

[11] S.P. Sampath Kumar v. Union of India, (1987) 1 SCC 124.

[12] Section 5(1), The Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985.

[13] Section 5 (2), The Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985.

[14] (1997) 3 SCC 261.

[15] Mahabal Ram (dr) v. Indian Council of Agricultural Research, (1994) 2 SCC 401.

[16] 2015 SCC OnLine Mad 4785.

[17] (1993) 4 SCC 357

[18] Gopal Singh v. State Cadre Forest Officers’ Assn, (2007) 9 SCC 369.

[19] H.N. Patro v. Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 1993 SCC (L&S) 280.

[20] T. Sudhakar Prasad v. Govt of A.P., (2001) 1 SCC

[21] AIR 2002 SC 2537

[22] (1999) 9 SCC 596

[23] (1998) 4 SCC 447

[24] Nutan Wodeyar v. Union of India, 2016 SCC OnLine Kar 8388.

[25] (1997) 3 SCC 261.

[26] (2001) 1 SCC 516.

[27] (2010) 11 SCC 694

[28] (2010) 11 SCC 322.

[29] (1987) 1 SCC 124

This article has been written by Aakriti Gupta, 5th Year BA LLB student at Army Institute of Law, Mohali

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