NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday accused the government of trying to frustrate the functioning of courts and quasi-judicial bodies by not providing them any facilities as they found these bodies upsetting their decisions.

A bench of Justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya made this scathing observation as the Union government failed to live up to its repeated commitment to bring in uniformity in service conditions and infrastructure facilities for chairpersons, presidents and members of tribunals and quasi-judicial bodies.

It gave the example of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which has been acknowledged by the judiciary and the executive as the most important quasi-judicial body since independence. However, the bench said the NGT chairperson found it a frustrating experience to get a meagre expense of Rs 500 cleared.

Repeated directions from the bench and monitoring had forced the government to make NGT functional by appointing its chairperson. “But it is shocking to hear NGT chairperson disclose that he finds it difficult to get even a Rs 500 bill cleared,” the bench said.

“We have repeatedly said that it is one of the most important tribunals to be set up since independence, but the government has slashed its budget to less than one-tenth of what was proposed earlier,” it added.

The bench was hurt by the government’s lack of will to live up to its commitment, repeatedly given to the court through attorney generalG E Vahanvati and additional solicitors general in the last 10 months, to bring uniformity in service conditions of chairpersons, presidents and heads of various tribunals and quasi-judicial bodies and their members along with infrastructure facilities.

Justices Singhvi and Mukhopadhaya said it was part of the design to frustrate the courts and tribunals. The bench said, “They do not want courts and quasi-judicial bodies to function properly. They find these bodies upsetting their decisions. That is why they do not provide facilities and infrastructure. This leaves the chairpersons of tribunals frustrated as they cannot function. In these circumstances, what the NGT chairperson disclosed will not be surprising.”

The bench repeatedly threatened to order a stay on appointment of retired judicial officers and judges to the tribunals till the government at the highest level worked out uniform service conditions for them.

“There is too much of ad-hocism in these matters. But all bodies headed by retired bureaucrats are provided with all facilities. Look at the information commissioners, they have uniform tenure and all facilities. This is self-speaking. Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) is a clear example of this. Why is it provided that the chairmen of CAT would retire at 68 years? What is the basis,” the bench asked.

Additional solicitor general Paras Kuhad said he would make all efforts to convince the authorities to place the matter before the Union Cabinet for a policy decision on uniformity in service conditions for all heads of tribunals and quasi-judicial bodies.

Heeding the suggestions made by amicus curiae P P Rao and A D N Rao, the bench said, “In these circumstances, we direct the respondents to fulfill within four weeks the commitment made to the court on April 20 last year through the attorney general and on December 4 through additional solicitor general, else the court may consider desirability of giving suo motu directions in respect of issues raised by the petition.”

Petitioner Rajiv Garg had pointed out disparity in service conditions of chairpersons and members appointed to tribunals and quasi-judicial bodies and told the court that many of these posts were vacant, rendering the bodies non-functional.

Times View

Many have long suspected that governments are averse to independent supervision of what they do and hence are prone to hamstringing such oversight bodies, whether they are regulators or tribunals. With the Supreme Court now voicing similar apprehensions, we hope the issue will get the kind of serious attention it deserves. A democratic system premised on the rule of law needs such checks and balances to function effectively. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that they have the facilities and the freedom to discharge their duties fully.