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Changing Dimensions of Administrative Tribunals In India An overview

Administrative Tribunal is a body constituted under a Statute to perform adjudicatory functions of the management of the affairs of an organization or executive branch of a government. The Administrative Tribunals are not courts, but are vested with the States inherent judicial power. They are set up to perform quasi-judicial functions.

The word Tribunal means seat or bench upon which a judge or judges sit in a court or court of justice. It is a judging body that is appointed to make a judgment or enquiry and includes even ordinary courts. In Administrative Law, the term Tribunal is used to refer to bodies other than the regular courts of the land. In simple words, tribunal is a body with judicial or quasi-judicial powers/functions set up by the statute outside the usual judicial hierarchy of Supreme Court and High Courts.

The word tribunal is wider than court, and hence it is said that all courts are tribunals, but all tribunals are not courts. A body, which determines controversies or the rights of parties, is called a tribunal, when it possesses some but not all the trappings of a court. Examples:
  1. Industrial Tribunal set up under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947
  2. Income Tax Appellate Tribunal constituted under the Income Tax Act, 1961. There are certain administrative tribunals, which are termed as courts, but they are not strictly courts, and they are only tribunals. Examples-
    i) Employees Insurance Count under Employees State Insurance Act, 1948
    ii) Labour Court under Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.

The word tribunal has been used in Articles 136 and 227 of the Constitution of India, but it has not been defined in the Constitution. In Administrative Law, the word Tribunal is used to refer to the adjudicatory bodies outside the sphere of ordinary courts. A tribunal may be defined as a body independent of a department, which is entrusted with adjudicatory function and whose decisions are binding on the parties (subject to regular appeal).

Durga Shanker Mehta v. Raghuraj Singh(1), In this case, Supreme Court defined tribunal in the following words The expression Tribunal as used in Article 136 does not mean the same thing as Court but includes, within its ambit, all adjudicating bodies, provided they are constituted by the State and are invested with judicial as distinguished from administrative or executive functions.

Bharat Bank v. Employees (2), In this case, the Supreme Court observed that though tribunals are called in many of the trappings of a court and though they exercise quasi-judicial functions, they are not full-fledged courts. Thus, a tribunal is an adjudicating body, which decides controversies between the parties and exercises judicial powers as distinguished from purely administrative functions and thus possesses some powers of a court, but not all.

Characteristics Features of a Tribunal Following are the features of the administrative tribunals

  1. Administrative tribunals are established by the government by a statute or under a statute
  2. It performs quasi-judicial functions.
  3. Its proceedings are deemed to be judicial proceedings.
  4. It is not bound by the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 or the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. It follows the rules prescribed by the statute under which, it has been created and the principles of natural justice. In certain cases the tribunal is left free to develop its own procedure.
  5. It has the power to compel the attendance of witnesses (just like a civil court) and its proceedings are just like a civil court proceedings.
  6. In their proceedings it has to follow openness, fairness and impartiality (principles of natural justice).
  7. It is independent and not subject to any administrative interference in the discharge of' its functions.
  8. It mainly decides disputes arising out of the policies and programs of the welfare state.
  9. In the absence of any statutory provision, a tribunal cannot review its own decision.

Kinds of Tribunals: may be classified into

  1. Statutory or Administrative Tribunals.
  2. Domestic Tribunals.

1. Statutory or Administrative Tribunals:

The word Administrative means of administrative relating to a business or organization and administration means the management of the affairs of a business or organization or executive branch of a government. Administrative Tribunal is a body constituted under a Statute to perform adjudicatory functions of the management of the affairs of an organization or executive branch of a government. The Administrative Tribunals are not courts, but are vested with the States inherent judicial power. They are set up to perform quasi-judicial functions.

Kinds of Administrative Tribunals in India: different kinds of Administrative Tribunals exist as stated below

  1. Income Tax Appellate Tribunals: It is created/constituted by the Central Government under Section 252 of the Income Tax Act.
  2. Industrial Tribunal: The Industrial Tribunal and National Tribunal are created by the Central Government under Section 7-A and 7-B respectively of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 (to settle the disputes between the Employer and Employees).
  3. Railway Rates Tribunal: It is constituted under the Indian Railway Act, 1890.
  4. Administrative Tribunals under the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985: Article 323-A of the Indian Constitution provides for the establishment of administrative tribunals to deal with service matters and Article 323-B provides for the establishment of Tribunals to deal with other matters.

Need for the Establishment of Administrative Tribunals:

  1. The courts are over burdened and there is inordinate delay in the delivery of justice as they are not able to dispose of the cases quickly. The Tribunals Inquiries Act, 1971 was passed and a Council on Tribunals has been constituted
  2. Due to the adoption of Welfare State, there has been enormous increase in the functions of the government. With this, there arise a number of new problems. To solve the new problems arising from the activities of government, administrative adjudication came into existence to lessen the burdened of the court.
  3. Administrative Tribunals are intended to provide quick justice by speeding up the procedure by overriding the procedure laid down in the civil procedure Code or the Evidence Act.
  4. The expenses to get justice in ordinary cases are very high as they have to engage advocates and long period is required to decide the cases. The expenses in Administrative Tribunals are low when compared to that of ordinary Courts.
  5. Some cases require persons having special experience and training in particular field to decide the cases, as the judges of ordinary Courts are generic. It is better to entrust such cases to the Administrative Tribunals created especially for certain purposes consisting of the experts in the subjects.
  6. The Courts deal with the cases in accordance with law and they are fit to deal with the cases consisting policy consideration. Such issues can be dealt with better if they are entrusted to the Administrative Tribunals.

Reasons for the growth of Administrative Tribunals or Merits:

The change of Governments philosophy from the laissez faire to the social welfare state has inevitably led to a phenomenal growth of administrative law. Owing to the expansion of the governmental machinery in the modern welfare state, the ordinary courts of law are overburdened and find it difficult to solve all the problems. In order to overcome this situation and to minimize the workload of the courts, many administrative tribunals have been emerged in India. There are more than 50 tribunals functioning under various enactments.

The main reasons for the growth and development of Administrative Tribunals are detailed below:

  1. The modern welfare state has undertaken many welfare measures, which gave rise to a lot of problems. If all these problems are left to the Courts, the courts will be overburdened. It will also slow down the welfare measures taken by the Government. So it was necessary to develop administrative adjudication, to solve those problems. It will respond to the social needs, better than the Courts
  2. The problems arising from the modern welfare government needed policy considerations also. Courts will not take such matters into consideration. Adjudicatory bodies outside the courts can have such facilities.
  3. Expert knowledge is required to solve the modem problems. A judge is a generalist. An expert can adjudicate such problems better than a generalist.
  4. Adjudication in a Court will take much time because of the elaborate procedures and other technicalities. Administrative adjudication on the other hand, is speedy and free from such formalities and technicalities.
  5. Administrative adjudication is cheaper and more flexible Compared to the ordinary Courts.

De-Merits, Administrative Tribunals suffer from the following:

  1. There is no uniformity in the composition and procedure of the Administrative Tribunals. Each Tribunal is formulated by separate statute and that statute lays down the rules of procedure of that particular Administrative Tribunal
  2. All judges who are members of the Bench are law graduates qualified to be appointed as Judges. But, all the members of the Tribunals are not required to be legal experts or to possess legal qualifications. The appointment of Administrative Members to Administrative Tribunals is a drawback.
  3. There may be poor quality of investigation into the question of fact in the case of Administrative Tribunals. One of the criticisms against the Administrative Tribunals is lack of proper cross-examination.
  4. There will be departmental bias in the Governmental Administrative Tribunals.
  5. There may be no uniformity in the matter of appeal against the decisions of the Tribunals. The provisions of appeals may be differently provided in different statutes.
  6. The Administrative Tribunals are not competent to test the constitutional validity of statutory provisions.
  7. The functions of the Administrative Tribunals are only supplementary and all such decisions of the Tribunals will be subject to scrutiny before the Divisional Benches of the respective High Courts. The Power vested in the High Courts to exercise judicial superintendence over the decisions of Administrative Tribunals within their respective jurisdictions is part of the basic structure of the Constitution.
  8. The Administrative Tribunals have to act as the only Courts of first instance in respect of the areas of law for which they have been constituted.
  9. Administrative Tribunals cannot review their decisions unless the powers to review their decisions have been conferred on them by the relevant statutes.

Distinction between Court and Tribunal

  1. The institution of Court is traditional i.e. some centuries old. While the institution of Tribunal is of recent development
  2. Court deals with all matters including service matters. While Tribunal deals with service matters only.
  3. Court is headed/presided over by a person who is an expert in law/legally qualified. While Tribunal is headed/presided over by an expert in law in certain cases and in other cases by an official not trained in law.
  4. The decision of the Court is objective. While the decision of the Tribunal is subjective.
  5. A court is vested with jurisdiction over all matters, civil and criminal Court has to follow the procedural laws viz. C.P.C, Cr.P.C, law of Evidence etc. While Tribunal vested with limited jurisdiction to decide particular cases only. It need not follow the procedural law.

2. Domestic Tribunals; Domestic Tribunals means an agency created to regulate the internal discipline among the members by exercising the adjudicatory and investigating powers. Domestic Tribunals are sub-divided into:
  1. Statutory Domestic Tribunals
  2. Non-Statutory or Contractual Domestic Tribunals.

Statutory Domestic Tribunal means the domestic tribunal created by or under a statute. E.g.: Bar Council of India and State Bar councils created under the Advocates Act, 1961. Similarly, Medical Councils created under the Medical Council Act, 1956. While the Contractual Domestic Tribunal is created by an agreement between the parties and exercises jurisdiction and powers arising out of the agreement. E. g.: Clubs, Trade Unions, Societies etc.

Differences between Statutory Domestic Tribunals and Non-Statutory Domestic Tribunals
  1. These Tribunals are conferred force of law directly. While Non-Statutory Domestic Tribunals are conferred Force of law indirectly
  2. The aggrieved can invoke constitutional remedy viz. Writ of mandamus, Certiorari, prohibition etc. While Non-Statutory Domestic Tribunals Such writs cannot be availed against, these tribunals.
  3. These tribunals resolve/solve the problems/disputes between the members between the members and third person .While Non-Statutory Domestic Tribunal resolve/solve the problems/disputes between the members only.
  4. The decisions of the statutory domestic are subject to judicial review. While the decisions of the non-statutory domestic tribunals are not subject to judicial review.

The Administrative Tribunals Act1985: Salient Features of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985

  1. The Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 (Act No. XIII of 1985) has 37 Sections. These 37 Sections are arranged in 5 Chapters.
  2. Objectives: The Preamble of Act 13 of 1985 provides the objectives of the Act as follows: An Act to provide for the 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 if any corporation or society owned or controlled by the Government in pursuance of Article 323-A of the Constitution and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
  3. Chapter-l contains three sections. Section 1 says about the short title, extent and commencement. Section 2 provides that the Act does not apply to naval, military or air force etc. Section 3 gives the definitions viz. Administrative Tribunal, application, Chairman, member, notification, post, rules, services etc.
  4. Service Matters: The Administrative Tribunals are established to solve the service matters. Section 3(q) clearly defines what the service matters are. Section 3(q) Service matters in relation to a person, mean all matters relating to the conditions of his 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, as the case may be, of any corporation or society owned or controlled by the Government, as respects:
    i) Remuneration (including allowances), pension and other retirement benefits.
    ii) Tenure including conformation, seniority, promotion, reversion, premature retirement and superannuation.
    iii) Leave of any kind.
    iv) Disciplinary matters.
    v). Any other matters whatsoever. Section 3(r). Service rules as to redressal of grievances in relation to any matter, mean the rules, regulations, orders or other instruments or arrangements as in force for the time being with respect to redressal, otherwise than under this Act of any grievances in relation to such matters.
  5. Chapter-II deals with establishment of Tribunals and Benches thereof from Sections 4 to 13.
  6. Chapter-III contains from Sections 14 to 18, deals with jurisdiction, powers and authority of Tribunals.
  7. . Chapter-IV containing from Sections 19 to 27, deals with procedure.
  8. Chapter-V containing from Sections 28 to 37, deals with miscellaneous provisions
  9. Section 19 empowers the aggrieved person to apply by an application along with documents before the Administrative Tribunal. The acceptance of application depends upon the discretion of Tribunal. Application shall have to be submitted after all other remedies have been exhausted. The Limitation Act applies to the Tribunal (Section 21).
  10. Section 22 empowers the Tribunal exempts from the Rules of CEO and Evidence, but at the same time, it imposes restriction to follow the principles of natural justice.
  11. The applicant has a right to appoint a legal practitioner on behalf of him (Section 23).
  12. The Tribunal has power to pass any interim orders, by way of injunction or stay or any other manner as it thinks fit (Section 24).
  13. The decision of the Tribunal 18 given by majority (Section 25).
  14. Section 28 provides for the exclusion with regard to the matters mentioned within the jurisdiction of Tribunal from all Courts, except that of the Supreme Court under Article 136 of the Constitution. Therefore, the High Courts have no jurisdiction to interfere with the judgment of the Tribunal Article 136 empowers the Supreme Court, which may in its discretion, grant special leave to appeal from any judgment, decree, determination, sentence, or order in any cause or matter passed or made by any court or tribunal in the territory of India. Appellate power vested in the Supreme Court under Article 136 is not an ordinary appellate power. It is plenary. The Supreme Court has itself set the limit by permitting invocation of this power in very exceptional circumstances, viz. When a question of law of general public importance arises or a decision shocks the conscience of the Court.
  15. The Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 has been amended by the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1986 1n which the phrase Article 136 has been omitted. It means, now the Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction under Articles 32 and 136. By the deletion 0f the reference to Article 136 in Sections 14, 15 and 28 of the Administrative Tribunal Act it is made clear beyond doubt that the Supreme Courts power under Article 32 of the Constitution remain unaffected.
The Supreme Court has to decide whether or not even in service litigation involving alleged violations of Fundamental Rights has occurred or not. 16. Jurisdiction of the High Courts under Articles 226 and 227 has also been taken away by Sections 14, 15 and 28 of the Administrative Tribunals Act. Some of the jurists opine that the exclusion of the jurisdiction of the High Courts from the Administrative Tribunals is unjustified. The Andhra Pradesh High Court, in September 1993 interfered with the decision of the Andhra Pradesh Administrative Tribunal.

In recent cases, the Supreme Court upheld that the High Courts should entertain jurisdiction over the decisions of redress is clearly, effectively, efficiently pointed out by the statute (here the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985) and also the statute specifically mentions the jurisdiction of the High Courts under Articles 226 and 227 should be excluded. The jurisdiction of the Tribunal is conferred by the statutory provisions -for the purpose of determining rights, problems of service matters enacted by Parliament, which is the supreme legislative body in the country.

Administrative Tribunals are needed, as they discharge their functions more rapidly, more cheaply more efficiently than ordinary Courts, possess greater technical knowledge and fewer prejudices against the Government, give greater lead to the social interests involved, and decide disputes with conscious effort at furthering social policy embodied in the legislation.

  1. Dr. J.J.R. UPADHAYA, Administrative Law (Central Law Agency, 30 D/1 Motilal Nehru Road, Allahabad, 10th edn. 2016).
  2. S.P Sathe, Administrative Law (LexisNexis, 14th Floor, Vijay Building, 17 Barakhamba Road, New Delhi-110001, 7th edn. 2004).
  3. M.C. Jain Kagzi, The Indian Administrative Law (Universal Law Publishing Co.Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 7th edn. 2014).

End Notes
  1. AIR 1954 SC 520 (522).
  2. AIR 1950 SC 188.

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