The Delhi High Court has sought response of the Centre on a plea seeking appointment of members in various benches of the Settlement Commission as required under the Central Excise Act, observing that the situation is rather alarming.

A Bench of Acting Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Navin Chawla issued notice to the Centre, through Ministries of Finance and Law and Justice, on the petition and listed the matter for further hearing on May 2.

In our view, the situation is rather alarming and the respondent should at the earliest take steps to make appointments to the four benches of the Settlement Commission. Let the status report be filed in two weeks, the Bench said.

The counsel for the Centre also said that the issue is not adversarial and the authorities will take necessary steps at the earliest.

The Court was hearing a petition by Yashpal Singh alleging that the Centre has failed to appoint members as required by law in the Settlement Commissions established under Central Excise Act, which is giving rise to pendency of applications.

It said the Commission has its Principal Bench at New Delhi and three additional benches at Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai. The Settlement Commission consists of one Chairman and two members in the Principal Bench in New Delhi and one Vice Chairman and two members in each of the three additional Benches.

The petition, through Advocate Saurabh Kansal said that the petitioner has recently come to know that there is no quorum or in fact no member in any of the benches of the Commission for the last few months.

There is only Chairman in Delhi for a long period, giving rise to a situation wherein applications of the applicants may abate for no fault on part of such applicants, it said, adding that as per an RTI reply, some of the benches have no members since 2019.

The plea sought direction to the government to expeditiously fill the vacancies in the Settlement Commission and ensure that no applicant suffers for want of a member in the commission.

The plea said that the basic objective of setting up of the Settlement Commission is to expedite payments of customs and excise duties involved in disputes by avoiding costly and time-consuming litigation process and to give an opportunity to taxpayers to come clean on who may have evaded payments of duty.

With PTI inputs