One of the major criticisms against the NDA government is that there has been a systematic attempt to dilute the independence and autonomy of the constitutional bodies and to usurp the rights of the States in the name of implementing reforms. In recent times, there have been several glaring instances of the Centre trying to infringe upon the powers of the States in violation of the federal spirit. Opposition parties and civil society organisations have been flagging the issues of excessive centralisation of powers and erosion of the independence of the institutions. Similarly, there is a valid criticism that the Centre has been weakening various tribunals or quasi-judicial specialised and sector-specific adjudicatory bodies. The failure to fill vacancies in these tribunals meant that their functioning has been stymied and in some cases, they have even become non-functional. Only after the Supreme Court raised serious objections over the apathy in filling the vacancies, the Centre recently announced 31 appointments to the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) and the Income-Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT). Apart from systematic weakening of the tribunals and abolishing nine appellate tribunals, the Central government has been trying to dilute the powers of these quasi-judicial bodies by changing the rules and amending laws in the name of reforms. The Tribunal Reforms Bill 2021 was introduced to replace the Ordinance which was set aside by the court.
Tribunals play an important role in fast-tracking dispute resolution because they combine judicial and sector-specific technical know-how. The decisions of the tribunals can be appealed only in the higher judiciary. It is for this reason that tribunals have judicial and technical administrative members. There have been inordinate delays in the appointments due to failure to constitute the selection committees and the government’s failure to respond to the recommendations of some of the committees. Experts have warned that the failure to provide enough staff for these tribunals would seriously hamper the much-touted goal of creating a $5-trillion economy. There are nearly 240 vacancies in these tribunals, leading to apprehension that the government was bent upon rendering them toothless. The SC had been admonishing the government on this matter since last March and finally issued a strong reprimand last week, setting the September 13 deadline to make appointments. Recently, the government reduced the term of office and powers of various Commissioners, including Information Commissioners, chairmen and members of various tribunals. The constitutional authorities who are supposed to give judgments dispassionately without fear cannot act independently if they cannot continue in their post for at least a term of five years. The government is clearly trying to exert control over these quasi-judicial authorities to ensure they pass pro-government orders.
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