In law, the addition or deletion a single punctuation or a single word can have a major impact on the effect of that law. One such example can be seen from the recommended changes in the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 by Parliament’s Standing Committee. The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 7, 2010. The Bill was referred to the Parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests, which submitted its report on the Bill yesterday (August 18, 2010). The Committee has made a number of recommendations regarding certain clauses in the Bill (See summary here). One of these may have the effect of diluting the provision currently in the Bill. The main recommendations pertain to:
Clause 17 of the Bill which gives operators a right of recourse against those actually causing damage had been opposed as it was felt that it was not strong enough to hold suppliers liable in case the damage was caused by them. Clause 17 gave a right of recourse under three conditions. The exact clause is reproduced below: The operator of a nuclear installation shall have a right of recourse where — (a) such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing; (b) the nuclear incident has resulted from the wilful act or gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or services, or of his employee; (c) the nuclear incident has resulted from the act of commission or omission of a person done with the intent to cause nuclear damage. Under this clause, a right of recourse exists when (a) there is a contract giving such a right, or (b) the supplier acts deliberately or in a grossly negligent manner to cause nuclear damage, or (c) a person causes nuclear damage with the intent to do so. If any of the three cases can be proved by the operator, he has a right of recourse. The Committee has stated that “Clause 17(b) gives escape route to the suppliers of nuclear materials, equipments, services of his employees as their willful act or gross negligence would be difficult to establish in a civil nuclear compensation case.” It recommended that Clause 17(b) should be modified to cover consequences “of latent or patent defect, supply of sub-standard material, defective equipment or services or from the gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or service.” The Committee also recommended another change in Clause 17. It recommended that clause 17(a) may end with “and”. This provision may dilute the right of recourse available to operators. The modified clause 17 would read as: The operator of a nuclear installation shall have a right of recourse where — (a) such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing; and, (b) the nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of latent or patent defect, supply of sub-standard material, defective equipment or services or from the gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or services.; (c) the nuclear incident has resulted from the act of commission or omission of a person done with the intent to cause nuclear damage. This implies that for Clauses 17(b) or (c) to be applicable, the condition specified in clause 17(a) has to be compulsorily satisfied. Two examples highlight the consequence of the recommended change in Clause 17(a) of the Bill:
The effect of the changes recommended by the committee may thus dilute the provision as it exists in the Bill. The table below compares the position in the Bill and the position as per the Standing Committee’s recommendations:
|Right of recourse - The Bill gives operators a right to recourse under three conditions: (a) if there is a clear contract; (b) if the damage is caused by someone with intent to cause damage; (c) against suppliers if damage is caused by their wilful act or negligence.||In the Bill the three conditions are separated by a semi-colon. The Committee recommended that the semi-colon in clause 17(a) should be replaced by “and”.||This might imply that all three conditions mentioned need to exist for an operator to have recourse.|
|Right to recourse against suppliers exists in cases of “willful act or gross negligence on the part of the supplier”. (Clause 17)||The Committee felt that the right of recourse against suppliers is vague. It recommended that recourse against the supplier should be strengthened. The supplier is liable if an incident has occurred due to (i) defects, or (ii) sub-standard material, or (iii) gross negligence of the supplier of the material, equipment or services.||The variance with the Convention continues to exist.|
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.