The Tribunal Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Bill, 2021

Objectives:

1. With a view to streamline tribunals, the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Bill, 2021 is proposed to be enacted to abolish certain tribunals and authorities and to provide a mechanism for filing appeal directly to the commercial court or the High Court, as the case may be.

2. The Government of India began the process of rationalisation of tribunals in 2015. By the Finance Act, 2017, seven tribunals were abolished or merged based on functional similarity and their total number was reduced from 26 to 19. The rationale followed in the first phase was to close down tribunals which were not necessary and merge tribunals with similar functions.

3. In the second phase, analysis of data of the last three years has shown that tribunals in several sectors have not necessarily led to faster justice delivery and they are also at a considerable expense to the exchequer. The Hon’ble Supreme Court has deprecated the practice of tribunalisation of justice and filing of appeals directly from tribunals to the Supreme Court in many of its judgements, including S.P Sampath Kumar versus Union of India (1987) 1 SCC 124, L. Chandra Kumar versus Union of India (1997) 3 SCC 261, Roger Mathew versus South Indian Bank Limited (2020) 6 SCC 1 and Madras Bar Association versus Union of India and another (2020) SCC Online SC 962. Therefore, further streamlining of tribunals is considered necessary as it would save considerable expense to the exchequer and at the same time, lead to speedy delivery of justice. Accordingly, it is proposed to abolish some more tribunals and transfer the jurisdiction exercised by them to the High Court.

4. The tribunals that are proposed to be abolished in this phase are of the kind which handle cases in which public at large is not a litigant or those which neither take away any significant workload from High Courts which otherwise would have adjudicated such cases nor provide speedy disposal. Many cases do not achieve finality at the level of tribunals and are litigated further till High Courts and Supreme Court, especially those with significant implications. Therefore, these tribunals only add to another additional layer of litigation. Having separate tribunal requires administrative action in terms of filling up of posts and such other matters, and any delay in such action further delays disposal of cases. Reducing the number of tribunals shall not only be beneficial for the public at large, reduce the burden on public exchequer, but also address the issue of shortage of supporting staff of tribunals and infrastructure.

5. The Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Bill, 2021, inter-alia, seeks to give effect to aforesaid proposal and provide for the following, namely:— (i) abolition of tribunals or authorities under various Acts by amending the Cinematograph Act, 1952, the Copyrights Act, 1957, the Customs Act, 1962, the Patents Act, 1970, the Airport Authority of India Act, 1994, the Trade Marks Act, 1999, the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999, the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001, the Control of National Highways (Land and Traffic) Act, 2002 and the Finance Act, 2017; (ii) transfer of all cases pending before such tribunals or authorities to the Commercial Court or the High Court, as the case may be, on the appointed date; (iii) the Chairman and Members of such tribunals shall cease to hold office and they shall be entitled to claim compensation not exceeding three months’ pay and allowances for the premature termination of term of their office or of any contract of service.

Ordinance dt  4th April, 2021:

Objective Of Ordinance: The Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Bill, 2021 has been introduced in the House of the People on the 13th day of February, 2021 Bill could not be taken up for consideration and passing in the House of the People and Government expressed that circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action;  The ordinance has amended following Acts.

  • The Cinematograph Act, 1952
  • The Copyright Act, 1957 the Customs Act, 1962
  • The Patents Act, 1970
  • The Airport Authority Of India Act, 1994
  • The Trade Marks Act, 1999
  • The Geographical Indications Of Goods (Registration And Protection) Act, 1999
  • The Protection Of Plant Varieties And Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001
  • The Control Of National Highways (Land And Traffic) Act, 2002
  • The Finance Act, 2017.

The Cinematograph Act, 1952 

Under the amendment Appeal against the order by the Board which  could be preferred before  Appellate Tribunal is now to be preferred before the High Court. All consequential amendments have also been made. 

The Copyright Act, 1957

Hitherto Appeal under sections 19A, 23, 31, 31A, 31B, 31C, 31D, 32, 32A and 33A were available before the Appellate Board. These provisions have been amended and now appeal will be directly to the High Court in Commercial Division. Appellate Board has been abolished. Powers available for rectification of Register of Copyrights have been transferred to the High Court.

In the case of resale for a price exceeding ten thousand rupees, of the original copy of a painting, sculpture or drawing, or of the original manuscript of a literary or dramatic work or musical work, the author of such work if he was the first owner of rights under section 17 or his legal heirs shall, notwithstanding any assignment of copyright in such work, has a right to share in the resale price of such original copy or manuscript in accordance with the provisions of  section 53A. The power to determine the amount is now taken away from Appellate Board and assigned to Commercial Division of High Court.

Under Section 54 in the case of an anonymous or pseudonymous literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work, the publisher of the work, until the identity of the author or, in the case of an anonymous work of joint authorship, or a work of joint authorship published under names all of which are pseudonyms, the identity of any of the authors, is disclosed publicly by the author and the publisher or is otherwise established was  to the satisfaction of the 1 [Appellate Board] by that author or his legal representatives. But the powers have now been assigned to the Commercial Court of High Court.

Section 72 has been substituted to provide for appeal against the order of Registrar of Copyrights shall lie before single judge of High Court and the appeal against order of Single Judge has been provided before the Division Bench. 

THE CUSTOMS ACT, 1962

The  amendment is given to give effect of providing appeal to High Court against advance ruling Authority under chapter VB instead of  to Appellate Authority

THE PATENTS ACT, 1970

The Appellate Board under the Act has been abolished and the powers are now conferred on the High Court. Now High Court can decide issues relating to rectification of Register of Patents in regard to :

(a) by the absence or omission from the register of any entry; or

(b) by any entry made in the register without sufficient cause; or

(c) by any entry wrongly remaining on the register; or

(d) by any error or defect in any entry in the register,

Under Section 117A an appeal lied  to the Appellate Board from any decision, order or direction of the Controller of Central Government under section 15, section 16, section 17, section 18, section 19,1[section 20, sub-section (4) of section 25, section 28], section 51, section 54, section 57, section 60, section 61, section 63, section 66, sub-section (3) of section 69, section 78, sub-sections (1) to (5) of section 84, section 85, section 88, section 91, section 92 and section 94.Now the Appeal shall lie to the High Court. 

THE AIRPORT AUTHORITY OF INDIA ACT, 1994. 

Under Section 28E  Where any persons have been evicted from any airport premises under section 28D, the eviction officer may, after giving ten days’ notice to the persons from whom possession of the airport premises has been taken and after publishing the notice in at least one newspaper having circulation in the locality, remove or cause to be removed or   dispose of by public auction any property remaining on such premises.   Where any property is sold under sub-section (1), the sale proceeds thereof shall, after deducting the expenses of the sale and the amount, if any, due to the Central Government or the corporate authority on account of arrears of rent or damages or costs, be paid to such person or persons as may appear to the eviction officer to be entitled to the same:

It provided that where the eviction officer is unable to decide as to the person or persons to whom the balance of the amount is payable or as to the apportionment of the same, he was to  refer such dispute to the Tribunal   established under sub-section (1) of section 28-I; and now by amendment the powers are given to Central Government.

Any person aggrieved by an order of the eviction officer under the Chapter Couldy, within fifteen days from the date of such order, prefer an appeal to the Tribunal in such form as may be prescribe. Now the said powers are given to High Court.

THE TRADE MARKS ACT, 1999

By amendment the Powers of Registrar of Trade Marks have been given to Registrar of High Court and powers of Appellate Board have been given to the High Court.Provisions of Appellate Board have been omitted.Earlier Tribunal meant “  the Registrar or, as the case may be, the Appellate Board, before which the proceeding concerned were pending.Now instead of Appellate Board words are High Court has been substituted.To sum the jurisdiction of Tribunal wherever referred in the Act meant Registrar or the Appellate Board now shall be read as Registrar or High Court will be substituted owing to abolition of Appellate Board.

THE GEOGRAPHICAL INDICATIONS OF GOODS (REGISTRATION AND PROTECTION) ACT, 1999

The provisions for Appellate Board have been omitted.Upon non renewal of Registration ,the continuity of Registration shall be discretion of the Registar or the High Court.

THE PROTECTION OF PLANT VARIETIES AND FARMERS’ RIGHTS ACT, 2001

The provisions for Plant Varieties Protection Appellate Tribunal have been omitted.Order of Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority and Registrar shall now be appealable before High Court.

THE CONTROL OF NATIONAL HIGHWAYS (LAND AND TRAFFIC) ACT, 2002

An appeal from any order passed, or any action taken, excluding issuance or serving of notices, under sections 26, 27, 28, 36, 37 and 38 by the Highway Administration or an officer authorised on its behalf, as the case may be, shall lie to the Court. Which shall be the principal Civil Court of original jurisdiction in a district, and includes the High Court in exercise of its ordinary original civil jurisdiction;’ ;Provisions of appeal to Tribunal has been omitted.

AMENDMENTS TO THE FINANCE ACT, 2017

Salient Features: 

In the Finance Act, 2017 has been amended and it has replaced section 184 with new section 184 in order to empower the Central Government may, by notification, make rules to provide for the qualifications, appointment, salaries and allowances, resignation, removal and the other conditions of service of the Chairperson and Members of the Tribunal as specified in the Eighth Schedule therein.

Minimum age of a  Chairperson or Member is fixed at 50 years:

The Chairperson and Members of a Tribunal shall be appointed by the Central Government on the recommendation of a Search-cum-Selection Committee

The Search-cum-Selection Committee shall consist of—

(a) the Chief Justice of India or a Judge of Supreme Court nominated by him–– Chairperson of the Committee;

(b) two Secretaries nominated by the Government of India –– Members;

(c) one Member, who––

(i) in case of appointment of a Chairperson of a Tribunal, shall be the outgoing Chairperson of the Tribunal; or

(ii) in case of appointment of a Member of a Tribunal, shall be the sitting Chairperson of the Tribunal; or

(iii) in case of the Chairperson of the Tribunal seeking re-appointment, shall be a retired Judge of the Supreme Court or a retired Chief Justice of a High Court nominated by the Chief Justice of India:

Notwithstanding anything contained in any judgment, order, or decree of any court or any law for the time being in force, ––

(i) the Chairperson of a Tribunal shall hold office for a term of four years or till he attains the age of seventy years, whichever is earlier;

(ii) the Member of a Tribunal shall hold office for a term of four years or till he attains the age of sixtyseven years, whichever is earlier:

Consequently all High Courts will be burdened with the appeals from these Acts.

Judgment of Madras Bar Association in Nov 2020 shall be subject to amendment in Finance Act 2017.

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