Tribunals are quasi-judicial bodies created by the 42nd Amendment Act and are governed by Articles 323A and 323B of the Constitution. While they have been held to be constitutionally valid by the Supreme Court, their existence and functioning have led to debates and discussions on various issues and challenges pertaining to them. One such issue is whether tribunals curtail the jurisdiction of ordinary courts.
Arguments in favor of the view that tribunals curtail the jurisdiction of ordinary courts include:
- Being a quasi-judicial body, tribunals dilute the judicial mechanism, which is the exclusive arena of ordinary courts.
- Conferring a direct right of appeal to the Supreme Court from tribunals has resulted in a backlog of cases and has changed the Supreme Court from a constitutional court to a mere appellate court.
- Decisions of some tribunals, like the National Green Tribunal, continue to be taken on appeal only before the Supreme Court bypassing the High Court as the Court of Appeal, depriving them of their power of judicial review.
However, tribunals have also emerged as efficient institutions of justice delivery due to their benefits such as flexibility of procedure, cost and time effectiveness, unburdening of judiciary, and specialization through expert involvement.
Some challenges faced by tribunals include:
- Inadequate infrastructure leading to high pendency rates.
- Lack of information available on the functioning of tribunals.
- Appointments to tribunals are usually under the control of the executive.
- Low accessibility due to scant geographic availability.
To address these challenges, tribunals can be reformed by ensuring the qualifications of members are equal to those of the court whose jurisdiction they are replacing, ensuring their independence from sponsoring or parent ministries, increasing accessibility by having benches in different parts of the country, and appointing members through an impartial and independent selection committee.
In conclusion, tribunals are meant to supplement ordinary courts and cannot supplant them. While their existence and functioning have led to debates and discussions on various issues and challenges, they are a great resource in rendering justice in the government and reducing conflicts and disputes related to public officials who are agents of good governance. It is important to reform and revamp tribunals to ensure their effectiveness and efficiency while keeping in mind the 272nd Law Commission report for the restructuring of tribunals and the ruling of the Supreme Court in the L. Chandra Kumar case.