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Delhi HC slams govt for reply that ‘reads nothing’

Poornima Joshi New Delhi | Updated on September 15, 2021

Centre’s affidavit on action taken says Tribunal Reforms Act rules are being framed to make appointments

The issue of dysfunctional tribunals flared up once again on Monday with the Delhi High Court rapping the Centre on not filling the vacancies in the Appellate Tribunal for trying Prevention of Money Laundering Act cases.

Justice Rekha Palli had, in the last hearing on a petition seeking a direction to appoint a chairperson to the Appellate Tribunal, PMLA, to get an expeditious decision, had asked for a status report from the Centre on filling the vacancies. The Court had earlier also been approached by several petitioners aggrieved by delays as the Tribunal was not functional. But while responding to the Court’s order, the Centre merely said that the Tribunals Reforms Act has just been passed and the rules are in the process of being framed. The Court took a dim view of the Centre’s submission.

‘Not a status report’

“What is this? Is this the kind of status report to be filed? It reads nothing! Who is the person who has filed this? It only talks about the rules. It does not say what you are doing. When are you appointing? Whom are you appointing? This is what is meant to be a status report. Not This!” said Justice Rekha Palli.

Non-appointment of presiding officers to various tribunals has led to huge pendency and backlog of cases, leading to different courts pulling up the Centre for the delay in filling the vacancies. Recently, the Delhi High Court, pulled up the Centre on the vacancies in the Debt Recovery Tribunals.

The present petition before Justice Palli is in the matter of Fullerton India Credit Company Ltd on non-appointment of the Chairman of Appellate Tribunal for PMLA.

‘Appointment process’

The Centre attributed the delays in appointment to the change in the appointments process that has been under way since 2017. The background to this is that the Apex Court, in the Madras Bar Association case, had held that certain provisions of the Finance Act, 2017, as amended by the Tribunal Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021 were unconstitutional as they violated the doctrine of separation of power and independence of the judiciary.

In the present case before the High Court, the Centre argued that now that the Tribunals Reforms Act has been passed, the appointments will be made via the new rules for the statute although that has also been challenged in the Supreme Court.

“Parliament has recently enacted the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021 which inter-alia provides for the conditions of service of chairperson and members of the tribunals. Accordingly, the new tribunal rules in terms of the Section 3 of the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021 are in advance stage of formulation and the process of filling up the posts of chairman and members will be initiated once the new rules are notified,” said the Centre in its affidavit.

‘Another status report’

While the Court gave two more weeks for the Centre to file another status report, Justice Palli observed that “no seriousness” has been exhibited in making the PMLA Appellate Tribunal functional.

Published on September 14, 2021

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