NEW DELHI: To increase the efficiency of the tribunals functioning in the country, the Ministry of Law and Justice has decided to reduce the present number of tribunals. The ministry has initiated the process of pruning the number from 35 to just nine as many of them are performing identical functions.
The law ministry was of the view that there is a possibility that some of the tribunals can be merged to avoid the overlapping functions being discharged by them. There are over 35 tribunals functioning across India dealing with subjects such as income tax, electricity, consumer protection, company laws and railway accidents.
The move is in tune with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy of doing away with laws and procedures which create confusion and obstruct smooth governance. “We have constituted a committee to oversee if the proposed cutting down of tribunals is in sync with the present working of tribunals,” said a senior law ministry official.
Officials said that an early assessment by the law ministry shows that almost half of the existing tribunals and appellate bodies can be brought under the convergence plan. This will help the ministry concerned to save money and utilise human resources more efficiently.
“On an average, each bench in a tribunal or appellate body needs a staff of 12 people, and many of these bodies can be clubbed and brought under a common administrative umbrella,” the official added.
According to sources, Competition Appellate Tribunal could be converged with the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority Appellate Tribunal, since the latter has few appeals before it. Tribunals handling inter-state river water disputes could be brought under the National Water Tribunal.
The Department of Legal Affairs had written to all Union ministries and departments to furnish details of tribunals functioning under their administrative control and explain the possibility of merging the functions of tribunals with some other tribunals.
Another reason why the law ministry was forced to cut down the tribunals is that many of them had to adjudicate cases where its own ministry was controlling them. The Debt Recovery Tribunal and the Debt Recovery Appellate Tribunal function under the Ministry of Finance, the Armed Forces Tribunal functions under the Ministry of Defence while the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal functions under the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. These ministries not only control tribunals but are also responsible for things such as infrastructure, finance, salaries and staff along with the rule-making power
A few years ago, the law ministry had sought administrative control over all tribunals functioning citing a 1997 Supreme Court order that said, “We are of the view that, until a wholly independent agency for the administration of all such tribunals can be set-up, it is desirable that all such tribunals should be, as far as possible, under a single nodal ministry which will be in a position to oversee the working of these tribunals. For a number of reasons, that ministry should appropriately be the Ministry of Law.” But amid protests by various ministries, the proposal failed to take off.