New Delhi, March 23 (IANS) The governments move to do away with eight tribunals by assigning their work to existing ones and assume power to appoint/remove their members was qestioned by the Congress on Thursday.

However, legal experts IANS spoke to said the move was in the right direction.

Amendments to the Finance Bill, which was passed in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, entail replacement of eight tribunals.

PRS Legislative Research, which tracks work of Parliament, in its analysis said allowing the executive to determine the appointment, reappointment and removal of tribunal members could affect their independent functioning.

“There will be a conflict of interest if the government were to be a litigant before a tribunal, as well as determine appointment of its members,” it said.

It said the Competition Appellate Tribunal will be replaced by the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal and Cyber Appellate Tribunal and the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority Appellate Tribunal by the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT).

The Industrial Tribunal will perform functions of the Employees’ Provident Funds Appellate Tribunal while the Copyright Board has been replaced by the Intellectual Property Appellate Board.

The National Highways Tribunal has been replaced by the Airport Appellate Tribunal. The work of Railway Rates Tribunal will be henceforth done by Railway Claims Tribunal and of Appellate Tribunal for Foreign Exchange by Appellate Tribunal under the Smugglers and Foreign Exchange Manipulators (forfeiture of property) Act, 1976.

Congress MP and spokesperson M.V. Rajeev Gowda hit out at the government for what he said was using the money bill route to bring about the changes and said that tribunals sought to be replaced were specialised.

“Making telecom tribunal (TDSAT) in charge of airports (Airports Economic Regulatory Authority Appellate Tribunal)… what is going on? What happens to the expertise that is supposed to be there in each of these specialised tribunals?” he asked.

“What happens to the backlog that will be created when you merge a bunch of tribunals. All these things need to be considered. It all happened very fast and we did not get a chance to discuss. These are not good moves,” Gowda told IANS.

A member of a tribunal set to be replaced said independence of the tribunals will be compromised.

“The bill empowers the government to make rules governing the appointment, removal, salaries and other condition of service of the tribunal members. This ensures the executive’s direct interference and seriously undermines the tribunals independence,” the member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told IANS.

He said at present, the terms of service of chairpersons and other members of the tribunals, appellate tribunals and other authorities are specified in their respective Acts.

On the other hand, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, which had made recommendations to the government about streamlining the working of tribunals, asserted the move would bring about greater efficiency.

“The idea behind streamlining the tribunals is to enhance their efficiency through more efficient use of resources. Several tribunals don’t have much work while there are many which perform similar functions. So we recommended streamlining the 37 tribunals into 20 to make them more efficient,” Alok Prasanna of the Vidhi Centre told IANS.

He said setting up separate benches for tribunals was also waste of resources.

Prasanna said the move will not lead to backlog of cases.

“The tribunals proposed to be merged don’t have much workload. For example, the Airports Economic regulatory Authority appellate Tribunal doesn’t hear more than 100 cases a year. So the merger of the tribunals will not add to pendency or backlog, but rather enhance efficiency,” he said.

Sanjay Kumar, an advocate at TDSAT, hailed the move.

“It is a good decision and will play a big role in increasing efficiency of these tribunals. Most tribunals to be merged have been plagued by vacancies. In fact, the Cyber Appellate Tribunal has remain defunct since July 2011 as there is no chairperson,” Kumar told IANS.

This is published unedited from the IANS feed.