Among the many innovative provisions adopted by the Forty-second Amendment of the Constitution (1976) a measure of far-reaching importance was the provision for the setting up of Administrative Tribunals. Part XIV-A which consists of two Articles 323A and 323B deals with these Tribunals.
Section (1) of Article 323-A provides 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. The power to constitute such Tribunals is vested exclusively in Parliament.
Section (2) of the same Article provides that a law made by Parliament under section (1) may:
(i) Provide for the establishment of an Administrative Tribunal for the Union and a separate Administrative Tribunal for each State or for two or more States;
(ii) Specify the jurisdiction, powers and authority which may be exercised by such tribunals;
(iii) Provide for the procedure to be followed by these tribunals; and
(iv) Exclude the jurisdiction of all courts except the special jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 136.
Article 323-B empowers Parliament or State Legislatures to set up tribunals for matters other than those covered by clause (2) of Article 323-A. The matters to be covered by such tribunals are as follows:
(i) Levy, assessment, collection and enforcement of any tax;
(ii) Foreign exchange, import and export across customs frontiers;
(iii) Industrial and labour disputes;
(iv) Matters connected with land reforms covered by Article 31-A;
(v) Ceiling on urban property;
(vi) Elections to either House of Parliament or Legislatures of the States and
(vii) Production, procurement, supply and distribution of food-stuffs or other essential goods.
A law made under the above provisions may provide for the establishment of a hierarchy of tribunals and specify the jurisdiction, powers and authority which may be exercised by each of them. Such law may also provide for the procedure to be followed by these tribunals and exclude the jurisdiction of all courts except the Supreme Court of India.
The Scheme of Administrative Tribunals envisaged by Part XIV-A of the Constitution as several other provisions of the Forty-second Amendment of the Constitution was looked upon with suspicion and misgivings by certain sections of political and public opinion in the country and that was reflected in the attempt of the Janata Government (1977-79) to abolish these provisions.
The Forty-fourth Amendment (1978) among other things sought to abolish Part XIV-A altogether. However, this attempt of the Janata Government was unsuccessful as it could not muster adequate support in Parliament.
The basic objective of administrative tribunals is to take out of the purview of the regular courts of law certain matters of dispute between the citizen and government agencies and make the judicial process quick and less expensive.
The fact that there has been a phenomenal increase in the number of disputes in which administrative authorities are involved has to be recognised. If all these disputes go to the ordinary judicial system where there is provision for appeals to successive higher courts one after another, there will be no speedy settlement of such disputes and they might linger for years or decades.
Inordinate delay and enormous cost are the two distinguishing features of the ordinary judicial system. The number of cases that are pending before the High Courts and the Supreme Court today is legion. No one can normally expect any speedy disposal of most of them. At the same time, there are matters of social concern which require reasonably quick disposal. Administrative tribunals facilitate this and that is the strongest argument in their favour.
Administrative tribunals are not an original invention of the Indian political system. Such tribunals are now well established in all democratic countries of Europe as well as the United States of America.
Britain which until a few decades ago looked upon administrative tribunals with suspicion has, in recent times, recognised their beneficial role and therefore has set up many of them.
The experience of India during the past two decades and more has demonstrated that administrative tribunals have an effective role to play in a country which has embarked upon a programme of rapid socioeconomic change.