The Supreme Court on Wednesday slammed the Union government for “cherry-picking” persons for appointments to various tribunals across the country, a week after it said the government was ’emasculating’ the tribunals by not appointing members on time.
The top court gave the Narendra Modi government two weeks to specify the current status of appointments to these quasi-judicial bodies and also complete the appointments of members. “Return with the appointment letters…and if someone is not appointed, then cite the reason,” a special bench led by Chief Justice NV Ramana told Attorney General KK Venugopal.
The Bench also comprising justices DY Chandrachud and LN Rao said it was distressing that the names recommended by the selection committee were being treated with disdain.
“We are a democratic country. You have to follow the rule of law,” the CJI said said, while warning the government of initiating contempt against its officials if appointments from the recommended list were not done any time soon. A similar warning was issued by the court last week also.
Referring to the recommendations by the relevant Search cum Selection Committee (SCSC) of 11 judicial members and 10 technical members for the National Company Law Tribunal, the CJI said the issued appointment letter featured a few “cherry-picked” names and questioned the reason for keeping the rest of the names on the wait-list.
“What kind of selection is this? And the same thing (has been) done with the ITAT (Income Tax Appellate Tribunal) members also. We are very unhappy with how the decisions are being taken…It is against service law. How can you go to the waiting list without exhausting the final list?” the Chief Justice said, hearing a batch of petitions by Madras Bar Association and Congress leader Jairam Ramesh against the Tribunal Reforms Act 2021.
“We spent weeks interviewing hundreds of candidates (for NCLT posts). Two Supreme Court judges and the finance and law secretary were part of the committee. So why to reject the recommended candidate?…We travelled throughout the country to conduct interviews. We wasted our time?” he said.
“What is the sanctity of the selection committee (which is headed by Supreme Court Judges) if the government is going to have the last say? The selections that we conducted will become useless,” Justice Rao pointed out.
“People are left in the lurch. When they go to the high courts, they are told to go to tribunals. But there are vacancies in tribunals,” Justice Chandrachud said.
Venugopal at one point told the Bench that the government had the right to reject names for appointment in tribunals if there were allegations of corruption against the recommended candidate. The government claimed it had notified 84 appointments in three different tribunals — NCLT, Armed Forces Tribunal and ITAT.
The petitioners led by senior counsel Arvind Datar, appearing for Madras Bar Association, questioned the way the appointments were made as the appointment letters read “for 4 years or until further orders” fearing that the appointments may be cancelled any time by the Centre. He also said that the government had appointed only 13 out of 40 names that were recommended by SCSC for ITAT.
Last week, the Supreme Court had given a one-week ultimatum to the government to fill the vacancies in tribunals, or quasi-judicial bodies, across the country. The CJI said “we feel the government has no respect for this court…you (the government) are testing our patience.”