Legal experts object to arbitrariness in Tribunal appointments

Upon the completion of term of office of Mr. Justice P.P. Bhatt as President, ITAT, the Ministry of Law and Justice has, vide Order dated 5th September 2021, assigned to Shri G. S. Pannu, Vice-President, ITAT, New Delhi, the charge of Officiating President of the ITAT.

Hon’ble Shri Pannu is 7th on the list of Vice-Presidents.

S. No Vice-President Date of joining
1. Ravindra Singh Syal 20-08-1999
2. Pramod M. Jagtap 16-03-2000
3. Naresh K Saini 01-09-1999
4. N.V.Vasudevan 22-03-2001
5. Pramod Kumar 21-07-2000
6. Akash Deep Jain 15-10-2001
7. G. S. Pannu 14-09-2000
8. Rajpal Yadav 19-03-2001
9. Mahavir Singh 14-08-2003

Justice Easwar

Justice (Retd) R. V. Easwar, who was also a President of the ITAT, has taken strong exception to the appointment of Vice-President No.7 as the Officiating President and the superseding of six Vice-Presidents.

This is the first instance of a Vice-President who is junior to at least six Vice-Presidents to be given charge as Officiating President. Though, technically, the Act does not say that the rule of seniority of the Vice-Presidents has to be followed, it is well-established that there must be strong reasons, which must be disclosed, if the person appointed supersedes six Vice-Presidents,” Justice Easwar has argued in an article in the Hindu titled “Stop arbitrariness in tribunal appointments“.

He has pointed out that the arbitrary appointment of a junior Vice-President as officiating President, without giving reasons, has given rise to conjectures and speculation which does not augur well for the quasi-judicial body.

By all accounts, it has caused ripples not only among the members of the Bar who regularly practise before the Tribunal but also among the Members of the Tribunal, in general, and among the Vice-Presidents who have been overlooked, not to speak of the erosion of the confidence of the litigants in the system,” he has stated.

The learned former Judge has also cautioned that such arbitrary acts of superseding has an adverse effect on the morale of the Members.

Members of the ITAT put in meritorious and distinguished service in the hope of reaching the top post, but that was taken away for no reason in 2013. The post of Senior Vice-President was also abolished for untenable reasons, thus dashing the hopes of members to reach that post at least, if not the post of President,” he has said.

Such things drastically erode the morale of the Members and where incentives for hard work, honesty and intellectual integrity are taken away, the institution suffers. The present appointment is another blow in this regard,” he has added.

He has called upon the Ministry of Law and Justice to clarify why the norms of seniority have been flouted in the matter of assigning the charge of the office of the President.

The appointment of Vice-President No.7 as the Officiating President raises several such questions. It introduces suspicion and bad blood among the Vice-Presidents resulting in the inefficient functioning of the body as a whole,” he has warned.

The views expressed by Justice Easwar is endorsed by several eminent Advocates and Chartered Accountants practicing in the ITAT. They explained that while merit is definitely a criteria to be considered by the appointing authority, the superceding of six senior candidates cannot be justified. They also pointed out that the protocol followed by the High Courts is to appoint the senior-most Judge as the officiating Chief Justice and the same should be followed by the ITAT, unless there are strong reasons to depart from the norm.

6 comments on “Legal experts object to arbitrariness in Tribunal appointments
  1. Subhas Joshi says:

    Dear Sir
    I would humbly request kindly refer Madras HC in the case The President ITAT vs Mr. A. Kalyanasundaram the judgment as follows

    This HC judgment clearly lays down the power of The President of ITAT Vis a vis posting of VP and Members.

    Also the judgment was passed your were a helm of affairs so no plea of ignorance

  2. Doshi Advocate says:

    To days paper Financial Express states that. Supreme Court slams govt for ‘ cherry -picking ‘ names for tribunal appointments P No 1 dt 16-9-2021 . It seems even the officiating president of the ITAT also seems to have been appointed on as- hoc basis . I am retired and not practising now . I feel if Mr Palkhivala would have been there he would have taken all these issues to maintain the independence of the Institution . I am of the opinion that tax bar should take up the issue of appointment of members from the waiting list and also appointment of officiating president . There has to be certain guidelines and transparency in the process of appointment in future

  3. Ajay Wadhwa says:

    It is only an temporary/acting charge given to a VP who is posted in Delhi where the Law Ministry is located. Saves cost and unnecessary dislocation. The VP indubitably is exceptionally competent and his date of joining is around the same as others. By making an issue out of this, the former President ITAT has in fact weakened the Institution by fanning unnecessary controversy. I would have liked him to have aired his views on the two most destructive moves, ie 4 yrs appointment rule and ITAT likely to be turned faceless.

  4. Sunil Shah says:

    Govt has appointed 13 members too. All are above 50 years age & for 4 years term. So in a way, applicants that were successful during selection process but below 50 years age have been shown the door.

  5. Advocate Hegde says:

    I fully endorse the View of justice R.V .Easwar . When Chief Justice of High Court retires , it is always the Senior most judge is appointed as acting Chief Justice . The Govt should have appointed the senior most vice – President as officiating Vice President , unless there are strong reason for not appointing him .
    ITAT being a judicial body under the Ministry of Law and Justice the Govt should have followed the procedure adopted by High Courts

  6. Adv. I.S.Verma says:

    Agree that supercesion sould be the exception and not the Rule, but will the Hon’ble Author of the Article in the Hindu will dare to spell out the circumstances as to how and under what circumstances he was elevated to High Cout.
    Without Malice…

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