Not just judicial vacancies, headless tribunals also add to backlog of cases
While the government and judiciary slug it out over a large number of vacancies in the Supreme Court and 24 high courts, little attention is being paid to tribunals, generally headed by a former judge of the Supreme Court or a high court with area experts as members.india Updated: Dec 27, 2016 00:22 IST
It is not just the country’s top courts that are short of judges, at least five tribunals -- set up to fast-track justice -- are headless and failing to get work done, adding to a growing backlog of cases.
While the government and judiciary slug it out over a large number of vacancies in the Supreme Court and 24 high courts, little attention is being paid to tribunals, generally headed by a former judge of the Supreme Court or a high court with area experts as members.
Take for instance, the cyber appellate tribunal (CyAT). It is lying defunct after the tenure of its last chairman, justice Rajesh Tandon, ended June 30, 2011.
The National Crime Records Bureau reported 11,592 cyber crime cases in 2015, a 20.5% increase over the previous year’s figure of 9,622.
Internet penetration in India is growing and is among the fastest in world. Increasingly people are moving to the cyberspace not just to communicate but to conduct business and for daily needs. Demonetsiation and push for cashless economy has added to the cyber rush.
“It’s really surprising that the government is talking about cash-less economy and has left CyAT headless for such a long time,” Quickheal Technologies’ director (cyber education and services) Vishal Kumar said, terming the situation as “alarming”.
“If someone is aggrieved by an order passed by the adjudicating officer, he is forced to go to a high court. This is increasing pendency in already burdened high courts,” said Kumar, whose 2002 PIL led to setting up of CyAT.
High courts have a backlog of around four million cases.
But CyAT is not unique. Telecom disputes settlement & appellate tribunal, armed forces tribunal, competition appellate tribunal and authority for advance rulings, which deals with NRIs’ income-tax issues, are also headless.
Tribunals play an important role in adjudication of disputes. They are supposed to give speedy justice, as they are free of the labyrinthine procedures that plague Indian courts.
“Tribunals were created for handling of cases of particular areas. Technical members were to sit with judges and decide cases quickly. But the failure to appoint chairpersons to these tribunals has crippled them,” former Bar Council of Delhi chairman KC Mittal said.
Faced with lack of manpower and infrastructure, judges were reluctant to take up such assignments, he said.
Chief Justice of India TS Thakur flagged these concerns last month. “Tribunals are not equipped and are lying empty. Today a situation has come that when no retired Supreme Court judge wants to head the tribunals,” Thakur had said.
The problem, he said, was adding to judicial backlog. “The least that you (government) must do is to ensure that these tribunals run with full strength,” he said.
The government, on the hand, is struggling against a mushrooming of tribunals, especially after India opened its economy in the early 1990s.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, has questioned the large number of tribunals and even wanted a debate if the funds allocated to tribunals could be diverted to strengthen courts.
The government in May set up an inter-ministerial group to suggest ways to reduce the number of tribunals. Previously, a committee of secretaries had proposed halving the number tribunals to 18.