RECENTLY the President of India was pleased to discharge Hon’ble member of the CESTAT Mr. PK Das, just a day before he was to complete his three year probation period. Can a Member of the Tribunal be sent home just like that? The answer, unfortunately is, `YES’.
Mr. Das is not the first Member of the Tribunal to be discharged. In fact one of the founder Members of the Tribunal was discharged even before completing one year in the newly formed Tribunal.
Mr. Sunder Grover, then a member of the ITAT (for more than ten years) was appointed as Vice – President of the CEGAT (as CESTAT was known in those days) in late 1982. On 16 th July 1983, the President Of India was pleased hereby to give one month’s notice to Shri Grover and to order that on the expiry of the period of one month from the date on which this notice is served on him, he shall stand reverted to the post of Judicial Member, Income Tax Appellate Tribunal .
Mr. Grover challenged his reversion in the Delhi High Court.
The High Court held that a temporary Government Servant can be removed without assigning any reason; that even though the Tribunal Member’s post was a high one, the Members are also bound by the terms and conditions of appointment. Regarding the assessment of the capability of a Member, it is better for the courts not to interfere. However it suggested that as the Government is a litigant before the Tribunal, it would be better if the decision to terminate a member is taken by a body nominated by the Chief Justice of India, instead of the Government doing it. But this was only a suggestion and the suggestion made in 1983 by the Delhi High Court seems to have fallen on deaf ears in the government.
So the Delhi High Court way back in 1983 had emphatically held that a Member of the CESTAT can be sent home without assigning any reason, if the terms of appointment specify so.
Fine! But then who will join the CESTAT with so much insecurity of job? A CESTAT Member gets a salary of about Rs. 1.2 lakh per month – that is less than what a third grade lawyer would earn. Now why should a Commissioner of Customs and Central Excise or a good lawyer join the Tribunal as Member of CESTAT for that kind of money when he can easily earn more than that without joining the Tribunal? For the Perks? – They hardly have any perks, not even a proper vehicle and bungalow and added to that there is tremendous insecurity.
Justice Shah, the then Chief Justice of Madras High Court addressing the Silver Jubilee function of the CESTAT in Chennai said, “In High Court, we deal with petty matters, but you in CESTAT decide issues involving Crores of rupees”
Is it a Catch-22 situation? Do we have a solution?