A bill seeking to abolish as many as nine appellate tribunals, including the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), was approved by Parliament with the Rajya Sabha passing the proposed legislation Monday.
The Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021, was approved by Lok Sabha on August 3.
Replying to a discussion on the bill in the upper house, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman rejected the Opposition’s charge that the legislation undermines the judicial system, and asserted the government “fully respects” the independence of judiciary.
The bill seeks to amend the Cinematograph Act, 1952, the Customs Act, 1962, the Airports Authority of India Act, 1994, the Trade Marks Act, 1999 and the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers” Rights Act, 2001 and certain other legislations.
On Congress MPs raising the issue of judicial independence, Ms Sitharaman hit back, saying, “Who is speaking? Members from the Congress party, which during the Emergency completely curtailed the judiciary. Today such a party asks us of judicial independence. What a shame!” she said, as the Opposition protested in the Well of the House.
The minister said the judiciary had no voice during the Emergency.
“What are they (Congress) talking about? Independence of Judiciary? I am astonished!” she said, as the House approved the Tribunals Reforms Bill with a voice vote.
Ms Sitharaman also dismissed the contention that the bill was in violation of Supreme Court rulings.
“Judiciary has not struck it down on constitutionality. It has only raised certain questions on some points,” she said.
The minister further said the primacy of the legislature to make laws is as important as the independence of judiciary.
“We are here to make laws. Of course we have to keep in line with the requirements of the Constitution…We fully respect the independence of the judiciary but we also remember the power of the law-making body where we are seated here to make the law for the sake of the common people,” she said.
The House also negated by a division vote an Opposition statutory motion to send the bill to a select committee for scrutiny. Only 44 MPs voted in favour of sending the bill to the select committee, while 79 voted against it.
The tribunals which the bill seeks to abolish, include, the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999; the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers” Rights Act, 2001; and the Control of National Highways (Land and Traffic) Act, 2002.
As per the statement of objects and reasons of the bill, all cases pending before such tribunals or authorities will be transferred to the Commercial Court or High Court.
The legislation also provides for uniform terms and conditions of service for chairperson and members of various tribunals.
The government began the process of rationalisation of tribunals in 2015. By the Finance Act, 2017, seven tribunals were abolished or merged based on functional similarity and their total number was reduced from 26 to 19.
The rationale followed in the first phase was to close down tribunals which were not necessary and merge tribunals with similar functions.
The bill further said the analysis of data of the last three years has shown that the tribunals in several sectors have not necessarily led to faster justice delivery and they are also at a considerable expense to the exchequer.
The Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Bill, 2021, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on February 13, 2021, proposing to abolish certain more tribunals and authorities and to provide for a mechanism to file an appeal directly to the Commercial Court or the High Courts, as the case may be.
However, the bill could not be passed in the Budget Session of Parliament and there was an immediate need for legislation.
While presenting this bill in the lower house last week, Ms Sitharaman had withdrawn the one introduced in February 2021.
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