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CAT Lawyers Oppose Bid To Strip Courts Of Contempt Power

Written by: Staff

New Delhi, Mar 31 (UNI) Lawyers have protested a government move to strip administrative tribunals of contempt power and facilitate their abolition.

The forum to adjudicate service disputes of government employees was set up twenty years ago under the Administrative Tribunals Act 1985.

The Central Administrative Tribunal was set up with a Principal Bench at New Delhi and 16 Benches across India, and eight State Administrative Tribunals were set up with central help.

Over the years, the tribunals have ''clearly fulfilled'' their goals and ''rendered speedy, effective and inexpensive'' justice, according to the CAT Bar Association.

But two weeks ago, the government introduced in Parliament a Bill to amend the 1985 Act-- to which the Association has taken ''strong exception''.

It says the Administrative Tribunals (Amendment) Bill 2006 contains ''an enabling provision to abolish the Administrative Tribunals'' and a provision to divest them of the power to punish for contempt of court.

The Bill was introduced by Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances, Pensions and Parliamentary Affairs Suresh Pachouri alongwith the government's reasons.

The Minister says the tribunals ''have become'' subject to the high courts' jurisdiction and need no longer retain the power to punish for contempt.

He also says three governments-- Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh-- want to abolish the tribunals and the 1985 Act must be updated to incorporate ''an enabling provision.'' The provision must cover transfer of pending cases to 'some other authority' and take care of 'service conditions of its functionaries' such as chairman, vice chairman, members, officers and other staff.

Critics say such a provision amounts to a blanket power which may even be subject to abuse.

An Association spokesman, Ajesh Luthra, said it would be more appropriate if any interest in pursuing such abolition were brought to Parliament for approval on a case by case basis.

The Association dubbed the government move ''retrograde'' and ''anti-employee'' and against ''sound reasoning and public opinion.'' It said the government had made no empirical study of the tribunals' performance and utility.

It said more than 80 per cent tribunal awards are usually final and less than 20 per cent ''carried to the higher courts''-- which ''interfere'' in ''less than nine per cent'' of them.

It said the CAT ''is the only judicial body which has attained almost 'zero pendency' level in adjudication.''

It saw ''absolutely no justification'' to even consider the tribunals' abolition or withdraw their contempt powers-- the only means for implementing their decisions. It recalled that a Cabinet decision in April 2005 to thus change law was opposed by lawyers and civil servants alike and condemned by delegates of more than 38,00,000 employees and pensioners.

It asserted that the Bill ''is not only against the public opinion but is also against public policy'' and was introduced in the Budget Session ''without any application of mind.'' Barely three years ago, Parliament was told that ''special tribunals like Central Administrative Tribunal, State Administrative Tribunals... have been set up to expedite the disposal of cases.'' This was by then Law and Justice Minister Arun Jaitley in reply to a question from Congress Member Karnendu Bhattacharjee on reforms to ensure quick delivery of justice to litigants.

Last July, Parliament was told India has no proposal to ratify certain international conventions covering government servants, who have ''alternative grievance redressal mechanisms.'' This was by Labour and Employment Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao in reply to a question from Communist Marxist Lok Sabha Member Mohan Ponnuswamy.

The Association has demanded: -- Withdrawal of Clause 3 of the amendment Bill which proposes to withdraw the Contempt powers from the Administrative Tribunals; and -- Withdrawal of 'Chapter IVA' of the amendment Bill which deals with ''Abolition of Tribunals.'' Last week, its members registered protest by abstaining from work on March 20-22, until Parliament adjourned amid controversy over what is office of profit-- 46 years after a law forbidding it for MPs came into force.

The Association spokesman said the Tribunals (Amendment) Bill has been turned over to a Parliamentary Committee for examination.


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