Provisions Of Constitution Do Not Preclude Centre From Abolishing State Administrative Tribunal: Supreme Court
The Supreme Court yesterday said that provisions of the Constitution do not preclude the Centre from abolishing a state administrative tribunal (SAT) and upheld a decision to abolish Odisha Administrative Tribunal.
A bench of Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice Hima Kohli ruled that the Centre acted in valid exercise of its powers when it invoked Section 21 of the General Clauses Act read with Section 4(2) of the Administrative Tribunals Act to rescind the notification establishing the Odisha Administrative Tribunal (OAT) because the decision to establish the tribunal was an administrative decision and not a quasi-judicial decision.
"Article 323-A does not preclude the Union Government from abolishing SATs because it is an enabling provision which confers the Union Government with the power to establish an administrative tribunal at its discretion (upon receiving a request from the relevant State Government in terms of the Administrative Tribunals Act)," the bench held.
Advocates Ashok Panigrahi and Aman Hingorani appeared for the Appellants along with AOR C Ravichandran Iyer as an intervenor in the appeal while ASG Balbir Singh appeared for the Union of India before the court.
Article 323-A of the Constitution empowers Parliament to make any law for providing adjudication or trial by administrative tribunals of disputes and complaints with respect to recruitment and conditions of service of persons appointed to public services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of any State or of any local or other authority within the territory of India or under the control of the Government of India or of any corporation owned or controlled by the government.
The bench said that the legal and factual context of the power to establish administrative tribunals, the purpose of this power and the intention of the legislature establish that there is no duty to exercise the power conferred by the Administrative Tribunals Act, such that the enabling provision becomes a mandatory provision.
"The Union Government acted in valid exercise of its powers when it invoked Section 21 of the General Clauses Act read with Section 4(2) of the Administrative Tribunals Act to rescind the notification establishing the OAT because the decision to establish the OAT was an administrative decision and not a quasi-judicial decision. Moreover, Section 21 of the General Clauses Act is not repugnant to the subject-matter, context and effect of the Administrative Tribunals Act and is in harmony with its scheme and object," CJI Chandrachud said, adding, "we hold that the abolition of the OAT was constitutionally valid ".
The bench said that the notification dated August 2, 2019 by which the OAT was abolished is not violative of Article 14 of the Constitution and the State government did not consider any irrelevant or extraneous factors while arriving at the decision to request the Centre to abolish the OAT.
"The decision to abolish the OAT is itself not absurd or so unreasonable that no reasonable person would have taken it," the Court held. The bench added that even the principles of natural justice were not violated because the class of people who were affected by the decision to abolish the OAT did not have a right to be heard.
It said that the Union government had not become functus officio (no further official authority) after establishing the OAT because the doctrine cannot ordinarily be applied in cases where the government is formulating and implementing a policy.
The bench said that the notification dated August 2, 2019 is valid though it is not expressed in the name of the President of India because non-compliance with Article 77 of the Constitution does not invalidate a notification or render it unconstitutional.
"The abolition of the OAT is not violative of the fundamental right of access to justice because the Orissa High Court will hear cases which were pending before the OAT prior to its abolition," it said. It added that the state government did not take advantage of its own wrong because it stopped filling the vacancies of the OAT only after deciding to abolish it.
The apex court said that the failure of the Centre to conduct a judicial impact assessment before abolishing the OAT does not vitiate its decision to abolish the OAT because the directions in Rojer Mathew (2020 verdict) were of a general nature and did not prohibit the abolition of specific tribunals such as the OAT in the absence of a judicial impact assessment.
The court rejected the challenge to the constitutional validity of the notification dated August 2, 2019 by which the OAT was abolished and upheld the verdict of Orissa High Court.
Cause Title: Orissa Administrative Tribunal Bar Association v. Union of India & others
With PTI Inputs