New Delhi, Sept. 21: In a judgment affecting crores of government employees throughout the country, the Supreme Court today held that state governments and the Centre have the power to abolish administrative tribunals.
The tribunals were created exclusively to try service matters and other related cases of government employees. This was done through an enactment ' the Administrative Tribunals Act under Article 323A of the Constitution ' in 1985 during the late Rajiv Gandhi's tenure as Prime Minister.
The state tribunals (SAT) hear cases of state government employees and the central tribunal (CAT) those of central government employees.
The aim of the enactment was to ease the load on civil courts, which are already burdened with crores of cases, and also to render speedy justice to government employees.
Another important aspect was that an appeal against a decision of a tribunal would directly come before the Supreme Court without going to the high court concerned. However, this was altered by the Supreme Court, which held that the jurisdiction of the high court could not be ousted. Hence, an appeal against a tribunal decision now goes before the high court.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice of India R.C. Lahoti and Justice C.K. Thakker, in its 60-page judgment delivered on September 17 (made available today), upheld a 2001 decision of the Madhya Pradesh government abolishing its SAT 13 years after its establishment. It also dismissed a slew of about 14 petitions and appeals against the state government abolishing the tribunal.
Justice Thakker, who delivered the judgment for the bench, held that 'it cannot be said that once a tribunal is constituted, created or established, there is no power (vested) either in the central government or the state governments to abolish it'.
'There was no binding requirement on the part of Parliament (or the state legislature) to create such a forum as contemplated by Article 323A of the Constitution of India' which is only an enabling provision facilitating the government to establish the tribunals, the bench said. Likewise, 'we see no objection in conferring the power on the state government to continue or to abolish such tribunals', the judges said.
If a state government abolishes its SAT, then its employees have to take their cases before a civil court, against which an appeal is to be made before the district court and then to the respective high court and, finally, the Supreme Court.
The Tamil Nadu government had already taken a policy decision to abolish its SAT. In Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, too, a similar proposal is under consideration.
However, there is no proposal to abolish CAT, a government official said.
The apex court said the legislature had enough powers to constitute the tribunal as well as powers to abolish the tribunal thus constituted.