Report No. 272
F. Background and Significance of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985
3.12. The objective behind establishing the 'Tribunals' was to provide an effective and speedier forum for dispensation of justice, but in the wake of routine appeals arising from the orders of such forums, certain issues have been raised because such appeals are obstructing the constitutional character of the Supreme Court and thus, disturbing the effective working of the Supreme Court as the appeals in these cases do not always involve a question of general public importance. The Supreme Court is primarily expected to deal with matters of constitutional importance and matters involving substantial question of law of general public importance. Due to overburdening, the Supreme Court is unable to timely address such matters.
3.13. Though the term 'tribunal' has not been defined, but there are cases wherein Courts have laid down the requisites of tribunals. In Jaswant Sugar Mills Ltd., Meerut v. Lakshmichand, AIR 1963 SC 677. it was held that to determine whether an authority acting judicially was a Tribunal or not, the principal test was whether it was vested with the trappings of a Court, such as having the authority to determine matters, authority to compel the attendance of witnesses, the duty to follow the essential rules of evidence and the power to impose sanctions.
3.14. Most of these tribunals/authorities are a kind of 'Court' performing functions which are of 'judicial' as well as 'quasi-judicial' nature having the trappings of a Court. It has many trappings of the court to ensure justice and fair play; and it has many flexibilities devoid of technicalities of regular court to ensure speedy and affordable justice. The word 'judicial' was explained in Royal Aquarium and Summer and Winter Garden Society v. Parkinson, (1892) 1 QB 431(452):
The word 'judicial' has two meanings. It may refer to the discharge of duties exercisable by a judge or by justices in court, or to administrative duties which need not be performed in court, but in respect of which it is necessary to bring to bear a judicial mind - that is, a mind to determine what is fair and just in respect of the matters under consideration.
3.15. The basic test of a Tribunal within the meaning of Article 136 is that it is an adjudicating authority (other than Court) vested with the judicial power of the State. In Associated Cement Co. Ltd. v. P.N. Sharma, AIR 1965 S.C. 1595 it was held that the procedure which is followed by the Courts is regularly prescribed and while exercising powers, Courts have to conform to that procedure while on the other side the procedure which the Tribunals have to follow may not always be strictly prescribed. It was held that "the basic and fundamental feature that is common to both the Courts and the tribunals is that they discharge judicial functions and exercise judicial powers which inherently vest in a sovereign State". The Tribunal has some but not all the trappings of the Court.
3.16. In Durga Shankar Mehta v. Raghuraj Singh, AIR 1954 SC 520. the Supreme Court of India held that the expression 'tribunal' according to Article 136 does not mean something as 'Court' but includes within it, all adjudicating bodies, provided they are constituted by State to exercise judicial powers as distinguished from discharging of administrative or legislative functions.
3.17. In Bharat Bank Ltd., Delhi v. Employees of the Bharat Bank Ltd., Delhi, AIR 1950 SC 188 the Supreme Court held that the award of a Tribunal can be challenged under Article 136 of the Constitution if the Tribunal is the creature of Statute and observes the provisions of special Act and when it is vested with the functions of the Court or necessary trappings of the Court. Whereas, in Associated Cement Co. Ltd. v. P.N. Sharma, AIR 1965 SC 1595. it was held that the Courts alone have no monopoly to exercise judicial power and thus, the vesting of trappings of the Court is not an essential attribute of a Tribunal.
3.18. In Kihoto Hollohon v. Sri Zachilhu, AIR 1993 SC 412 referring to its earlier decision in Harinagar Sugar Mills Ltd. v. Shyam Sunder Jhunjhunwal, AIR 1961 SC 1669. the Supreme Court set out a test to determine whether an authority exercising adjudicatory powers is a Tribunal or not:
'there is a lis an affirmation by one party and denial by another-and the dispute necessarily involves a decision on the rights and obligations of the parties to it and the authority is called upon to decide it.
All tribunals are not courts, though all Courts are Tribunals. The word 'Courts' is used to designate those Tribunals which are set up in an organised State for the Administration of Justice. By Administration of justice is meant the exercise of judicial power of the State to maintain and uphold rights and to punish 'wrongs'. Whenever there is an infringement of a right or an injury, the Courts are there to restore the vinculum juris, which is disturbed.'
3.19. The difference between a Court and a Tribunal is the manner of deciding a dispute. However, the Supreme Court in Virindar Kumar Satyawadi v. The State of Punjab, AIR 1956 SC 153. observed that:
'What distinguishes a Court from a quasi-judicial tribunal is that it is charged with a duty to decide disputes in a judicial manner and declare the rights of parties in a definitive judgment. To decide in a judicial manner involves that the parties are entitled as a matter of right to be heard in support of their claim and to adduce evidence in proof of it. And it also imports an obligation on the part of the authority to decide the matter on a consideration of the evidence adduced and in accordance with law. When a question therefore arises as to whether an authority created by an Act is a Court as distinguished from a quasijudicial tribunal, what has to be decided is whether having regard to the provisions of the Act it possesses all the attributes of a Court.'
3.20. Tribunals basically deal with the cases under special laws and therefore they provide special adjudication, outside Courts. In State of Gujarat v. Gujarat Revenue Tribunal Bar Association, (2012) 10 SCC 353 it was observed that:
'a particular Act/set of Rules will determine whether the functions of a particular Tribunal are akin to those of the courts, which provide for the basic administration of justice. Where there is a lis between two contesting parties and a statutory authority is required to decide such dispute between them, such an authority may be called as a quasi-judicial authority, i.e., a situation where, (a) a statutory authority is empowered under a statute to do any act (b) the order of such authority would adversely affect the subject and (c) although there is no lis or two contending parties, and the contest is between the authority and the subject and (d) the statutory authority is required to act judicially under the statute, the decision of the said authority is a quasi-judicial decision.
An authority may be described as a quasi-judicial authority when it possesses certain attributes or trappings of a 'court', but not all. In case certain powers under C.P.C. or Cr.P.C. have been conferred upon an authority, but it has not been entrusted with the judicial powers of the State, it cannot be held to be a court.'
3.21. The Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 brings into existence the 'Tribunals' contemplated under Article 323-A(2), to deal with various matters. The Act specifically provides that it will not be applicable to:
i. any member of the naval, military or air force or of any other armed forces of the union;
ii. any officer or servant of the Supreme Court or of any High Court, and
iii. any person appointed to the secretarial staff of either House of Parliament or to the secretarial staff of any State Legislature or a House thereof or, in the case of a Union Territory having a legislature, of that legislature. Later on in the year of 1987, even the officers and servants of the subordinate courts were also excluded from the purview of the Act.
The Act provides for the establishment of three kinds of administrative Tribunals:
i. The Central Administrative Tribunal,
ii. The State Administrative Tribunals and
iii. The Joint Administrative Tribunals.
3.22. The adjudication of disputes pertaining to service matters require specialised bodies because of the delay in Court room procedures. In Kamal Kanti Dutta v. Union of India, AIR 1980 S.C. 2056 it was observed that:
'There are few other litigative areas than disputes between members of various services inter se, where the principle that public policy requires that all litigation must have an end can apply with greater force. Public servants ought not to be driven or required to dissipate their time and energy in court-room battles. Thereby their attention is diverted from public to private affairs and their inter se disputes affect their sense of oneness without which no institution can function effectively.
The constitution of Service Tribunals by State Governments with an apex Tribunal at the Centre, which, in the generality of cases, should be the final arbiter of controversies relating to conditions of service, including the vexed question of seniority, may save the courts from the avalanche of writ petitions and appeals in service matter. The proceedings of such Tribunals can have the merit of informality and if they will not be tied down to strict rules of evidence, they might be able to produce solutions which will satisfy many and displease only a few.'
3.23 The Supreme Court had an occasion to examine section 12(2) of the Administrative Tribunals, Act, 1985 in A.K. Behra v. Union of India, (2010) 6 S.C.R 347 wherein it was held that the said provision enables the appropriate Government to designate one or more members as Vice-Chairman and entitles the members so designated to exercise such powers and perform such functions of the Chairman as may be delegated to him cannot be regarded "as destroying the principle of independence of judiciary or of administrative tribunals."
3.24 However, Justice Dalveer Bhandari, in his dissenting opinion held:
'53.- the Administrative Tribunals are an alternative institutional mechanism or authority designed to be not less effective than the High Court, consistently with the amended Constitutional scheme but at the same time not to negate judicial review jurisdiction of the Constitutional Courts.
54. There is no anathema in the Tribunal exercising jurisdiction of High Court and in that sense being supplemental or additional to the High Court but, at the same time, it is our bounden duty to ensure that the Tribunal must inspire the same confidence and trust in the public mind. This can only be achieved by appointing the deserving candidates with legal background and judicial approach and objectivity.'