SC Judgment Review 2021: Tribunals
In 2021, the Supreme Court issued two important judgments on Statutory Tribunals.
In 2021, the Supreme Court issued two important judgments on Statutory Tribunals. In July, it struck down certain provisions of the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021 on the grounds that they negatively affected the independence of the Tribunals. In October, the Court recognised the suo moto powers of the National Green Tribunal, as its mandate to protect the environment is within the Right to Life.
In July, a three-judge Bench consisting Justices Nageswara Rao, Ravindra Bhat and Hemant Gupta struck down provisions of the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021 related to terms of services of Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and other members of statutory tribunals.
The Ordinance stated that the Central Government would be responsible for making rules on the appointments, salaries, tenures of the members of tribunals. It set the tenure of members of the tribunals to four years, and set the minimum age for appointment at 50 years.
The Ordinance was challenged on the grounds that allowing the Executive to make rules on tenure, salary and appointment would violate the principle of separation of powers and adversely affect the independence of judicial bodies. Further, the amendments on tenure were contrary to Madras Bar Association III.
A 2:1 majority struck down the amendments on the minimum age limit on the grounds that it violated Madras Bar Association III. Gupta J dissented, writing that an Ordinance could not be invalidated merely on the grounds that they contradicted a prior judgment of the Court. The Court also struck down the provision that set the tenure of members to four years on the grounds that the security of tenure and salary for tribunal members is key to their independence. The provisions violated the principle of separation of powers.
16 appeals were filed before the Supreme Court against Orders of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) by various State Governments and corporations. These Orders were issued by the NGT in exercise of suo moto powers. The appeals challenged the NGT’s suo moto powers on the basis that the NGT was a statutory tribunal, and did not inherently have suo moto powers as they were not explicitly mentioned in the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010.
On October 7th, 2021, a three-judge Bench held that the NGT may exercise suo moto powers to execute its functions under the NGT Act, 2010. The Bench emphasised that the main aim of the NGT was to protect the environment; a purpose covered by the right to a healthy environment within the constitutionally guaranteed Right to Life. In order to protect the Right to Life, the statutory provisions should be amplified to serve this purpose. Hence, the NGT may exercise suo moto powers to better serve its mandate.