Govt.’s response sought on Jairam’s plea over Finance Act

MP argues as to how the Act tinkers with tribunal rules, and is a threat to Constitution

Published - August 04, 2017 09:02 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Congress MP Jairam Ramesh had petitioned the Supreme Court about the Finance Act, 2017

Congress MP Jairam Ramesh had petitioned the Supreme Court about the Finance Act, 2017

The Supreme Court on Friday sought the government’s response on Congress MP Jairam Ramesh’s petition that provisions of the Finance Act, 2017, modifying the terms of appointment and functioning in various statutory tribunals, including the National Green Tribunal, amounted to a dilution of judicial independence and a threat to the Constitution.

A Bench of Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar and D.Y. Chandrachud issued notice to the Ministries of finance, law and justice, environment, parliamentary affairs, the Cabinet Secretariat and the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

Challenged Sections

Mr. Ramesh specifically challenged Sections 182, 183, 184 and 185 of the Finance Act, 2017 as well as rules framed under Section 184, referred to as the ‘Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal and other Authorities (qualifications, experience and other conditions of service of members) Rules, 2017)’.

Section 184

Section 184 clothes the Centre with “uncanalised and unguided power to make rules to provide for qualifications, appointment, term of office, salary, allowances, resignation, removal and other terms and condition of service of chairpersons and members of several other tribunals and appellate tribunals.

“Section 184 suffers from the vice of excessive delegation,” Mr. Ramesh contended. Foremost, the MP said the passing of the Finance Act, 2017, as a Money Bill itself was a “colourable exercise of power and a fraud on the Constitution”.

“Mere certification of a Bill to be a Money Bill by the Speaker will not render the legislation immune from judicial scrutiny if there is a fraud on the Constitution, the democracy and the people of India,” Mr. Ramesh assured the Supreme Court about its jurisdiction.

The petition highlighted how the Finance Act has bowled out the NGT Act – the parent statute passed by the Parliament which set up the tribunal to provide speedy justice against dangers to environment and ecology. The NGT Act had provided the qualifications and conditions for the appointment of NGT chairperson and members.

Govt. gives itself power

But now, the Centre, through the Finance Act, has gifted to itself the power to control the functioning of the tribunal itself. All this, when the government is itself a party in most cases before the tribunal.

The petition points to how the Finance Act has also tinkered with the NGT rules, which had provided for a committee headed by a sitting Supreme Court judge to select NGT members. Now, these members would be selected by a government nominee for whom no qualifications have been laid down.

“Dilution of the independence of the National Green Tribunal is a direct dilution of the fundamental right to a clean environment and a balanced ecosystem found in Article 21 of the Constitution,” Mr. Ramesh argued.

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