The Supreme Court on Friday took serious note of huge vacancies in the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) and said that “the entire tribunal has collapsed”. The top court noted that the Centre in its affidavit has said that benches that have vacancies are functioning through physical/hybrid mode and virtual modes by joining members from other benches.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Surya Kant said that if the remaining 27 members of the tribunals out of the total sanctioned strength of 69 also retires, “then it would further collapse”. The bench said, “How will the tribunal work if appointments are not made? You (Centre) made the advertisement in April 2022 and the selection would obviously take some time. It has collapsed and if the remaining members also retire, then it would further collapse”.
It directed, “In this view of the matter since the vacancies in the CAT would impinge upon the citizens' right of access to justice, this court is of the considered view that in the exercise of jurisdiction of Article 142 is mandated. We accordingly direct pending further orders, the incumbent holding the post of members of the CAT either the judicial member or the administrative member shall continue to function even after the completion of their tenure, subject to their consent and availability”.
The bench said that this arrangement is being made till the next date of listing of the matter by which date it is being anticipated by the Union of India that the vacancies would be filled up. It listed the matter on July 26. The bench noted in its order that in CAT out of the sanctioned strength of 69 judges only 27 judges are in possession, leaving 43 vacancies inclusive of the chairperson.
It said that a chart submitted by the Additional Solicitor General Balbir Singh, appearing for Centre, during the hearing indicates that further vacancies are due to occur on June 17, June 30 and thereafter there are vacancies which will take place on August 23, September 3, 14, 29 and November 2 and 14, 2022.
It said, “The vacancies circular has been issued on April 4, 2022. The ASG states that it is anticipated that the process of appointment will be completed by the end of July 2022”. It said that the counter affidavit demonstrates that most benches of the CAT have substantial vacancies and the constitution of regular benches for hearing petitions would be a difficult exercise.
Singh said that they have received more than 600 applications from candidates and vacancies would be filled by July end. On May 6, the top court had taken serious note of the fact that six circuit benches of the CAT have become virtually non-functional due to the retirement of judicial and administrative members saying, “with one member you cannot even constitute a bench”. It had been noted that six benches of CAT including at Jabalpur, Cuttack, Lucknow, Jammu, and Srinagar are left with only one member.
The plea filed through advocate Amita Singh Kalkal stated that 35 judicial members including the chairman of the CAT and 35 administrative members cater to the 19 benches and eight circuit benches and due to the retirement of members and non-filling of vacancies so created, many of the benches of these Tribunals have become non-functional.
“The aforesaid judicial and administrative members cater to the 19 benches and 8 circuit benches. However, the last advertisement for the appointment of judicial and administrative members was issued in the year 2018 for the vacancies of the calendar year 2018. The vacancies of the calendar year 2019, 2020, 2021, and the current year 2022, have not yet been issued”, the plea said.
It said that even though appointments are not taking place yet both judicial and administrative members are retiring at regular intervals. “Because of the same, a situation has arisen where many benches of the Tribunal have become non-functional. At present there are only 16 judicial members and 14 administrative members in position as of March 31, 2022”, the plea said.
It pointed out that as of March 31, 2022, the Guwahati bench has become non-functional as no members are available there. “Besides the Jabalpur bench, Cuttack bench, Lucknow bench, Jammu and Srinagar bench are left with only one member either judicial or administrative because of which no division bench can be constituted there”, the plea said.
It added that if the said situation continues for a couple of more months, more than of the sanctioned benches of central administrative tribunals will become non-functional and gave the details of 13 members who are due for retirement till November 2022. The plea sought directions to the Centre to forthwith fill up the existing vacancies of the judicial as well as administrative members of the CAT.
In an interlocutory application filed along with the plea, the bar association also sought a stay of the impending retirement of all the existing judicial/administrative members who are due for retirement starting from April 1, 2022, and December 31, 2022, till all the vacancies which arose from 2019 onwards till now are filled up by actual joining of the selected candidates.
-With PTI Input