Because of the interest in the Women’s Reservation Bill and the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, we’ve received a number of queries about the process by which a bill becomes an Act. We have a more comprehensive primer on the subject, but here’s the process in brief: •The ministry drafts a text of the proposed law, which is called a ‘Bill’, after calling comments from other ministries, and even from the public. The draft is revised to incorporate such inputs and is then vetted by the Law Ministry. It is then presented to the Cabinet for approval. •After the Cabinet approves the Bill, it is introduced in Parliament. In Parliament, it goes through three Readings in both Houses. • During the First Reading the Bill is introduced. The introduction of a Bill may be opposed and the matter may be put to a vote in the House. •After a Bill has been introduced, the Bill may be referred to the concerned Departmentally Related Standing Committee for examination. •The Standing Committee considers the broad objectives and the specific clauses of the Bill referred to it and may invite public comments on a Bill. It then submits its recommendations in the form of a report to Parliament. •In the Second Reading (Consideration), the Bill is scrutinized thoroughly. Each clause of the Bill is discussed and may be accepted, amended or rejected. The government, or any MP, may introduce amendments to the Bill. However, the government is not bound to accept the Committee’s recommendations. •During the Third Reading (Passing), the House votes on the redrafted Bill. •If the Bill is passed in one House, it is then sent to the other House, where it goes through the second and third readings. •After both Houses of Parliament pass a Bill, it is presented to the President for assent. He/She has the right to seek information and clarification about the Bill, and may return it to Parliament for reconsideration. (If both Houses pass the Bill again, the President has to assent) • After the President gives assent, the Bill is notified as an Act.
Tribunals function as a parallel mechanism to the traditional court system. Tribunals were established for two main reasons - allowing for specialised subject knowledge in disputes on technical matters and reducing the burden on the court system. In India, some tribunals are at the level of subordinate courts with appeals lying with the High Court, while some others are at the level of High Courts with appeals lying with the Supreme Court. In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament may create an alternative to High Courts provided that they have the same efficacy as the High Courts. For an overview of the tribunal system in India, see our note here.
In April 2021, the central government promulgated an Ordinance, which specified provisions related to the composition of the search-cum-selection committees for the selection of members of 15 Tribunals, and the term of office for members. Further, it empowered the central government to notify qualifications and other terms and conditions of service (such as salaries) for the Chairperson and members of these tribunals. In July 2021, the Supreme Court struck down certain provisions of the Ordinance (such as the provision specifying a four-year term for members) stating that these impinged on the independence of the judiciary from the government. In several earlier judgements, the Supreme Court has laid out guidelines for the composition of Tribunals and service conditions to ensure that these Tribunals have the same level of independence from the Executive as the High Courts they replace.
However, Parliament passed the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021 in August 2021, which is almost identical to the April Ordinance and includes the provisions which had been struck down. This Act has been challenged in the Supreme Court. For a PRS analysis of the Bill, please see here.
On 16th September 2021, the central government notified The Tribunal (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2021 under the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021. A couple of the provisions under these Rules may contravene principles laid out by the Supreme Court:
Appointment of the Administrative Member of the Central Administrative Tribunal as the Chairman
In case of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), the Rules specify that a person with at least three years of experience as the Judicial Member or Administrative Member may be appointed as the Chairman. This may violate the principles laid down by the past Supreme Court judgements.
The CAT supplants High Courts. In 1986, the Supreme Court stated that if an administrative tribunal supplants the High Courts, the office of the Chairman of the tribunal should be equated with that of the Chief Justice of the High Court. Therefore, the Chairman of the tribunal must be a current or former High Court Judge. Further, in 2019, the Supreme Court stated – “the knowledge, training, and experience of members or presiding officers of a tribunal must mirror, as far as possible, that of the Court it seeks to substitute”.
The Administrative Member of the CAT may be a person who has been an Additional Secretary to the central government or a central government officer with pay at least that of the Additional Secretary. Hence, the Administrative Member may not have the required judicial experience for appointment as the Chairman of CAT.
Leave Sanctioning Authority
The Rules specify that the central government will be the leave sanctioning authority for the Chairperson of tribunals, and Members (in case of absence of the Chairperson). In 2014, the Supreme Court specified that the central government (Executive) should not have any administrative involvement with the members of the tribunal as it may influence the independence and fairness of the tribunal members. In addition, it had observed that the Executive may be a litigant party and its involvement in administrative matters of tribunals may influence the fairness of the adjudication process. In judgements in 1997 and 2014, the Supreme Court recommended that the administration of all Tribunals should be under a nodal ministry such as the Law Ministry, and not the respective administrative ministry. In 2020, it recommended setting up of a National Tribunals Commission to supervise appointments and administration of Tribunals. The Rules are not in consonance with these recommendations.