While the Centre and judiciary slug it out over a large number of vacancies in the Supreme Court and 24 high courts, there seems to be little attention paid to the country’s under-staffed tribunals, a key grievance redressal platform. In November, Chief Justice of India TS Thakur criticised the Centre for not taking measures to clear judicial appointments and provide facilities and infrastructure to tribunals. However, the Centre disagreed with Justice Thakur’s remarks, saying that it had made 120 judicial appointments in 2016. According to the report in Hindustan Times five critical tribunals --- Cyber Appellate Tribunal, Armed Forces Tribunal, Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal, Authority of Advance Rulings and the Competition Appellate Tribunal --- have no heads.
Like courts, tribunals are independent of the executive and the legislative bodies of governance. Like courts, they are open to the public that can access them for redressal of their grievances. Both courts and tribunals are transparent as they need to cite reasons for their decisions. Lastly, people can appeal in higher courts against the decisions given by both courts and tribunals. But the key difference is that tribunals are created for handling of cases of particular areas and technical members were to sit with judges and decide cases quickly. Despite playing the justice delivery role, administrative responsibility for tribunals is typically with the ministries of the government that administer the statutes under which the tribunals are created. The tribunal’s letterheads say they are part of the ministries in the government and the efficiency of a tribunal is often linked to the respect, interest and seriousness that the incumbent minister holds for the quasi-judicial functioning in his ministry.
The government’s failure to appoint chairpersons to these tribunals has crippled them and faced with lack of manpower and infrastructure, judges were reluctant to take up such assignments. Naturally, this governmental apathy towards the formation, manning, and administration of tribunals has led to some serious existential questions being asked.