5 Feb 2011

Decision-making cannot be delegated: Supreme Court

Holding that decision-making is the essential feature of a tribunal and thus has to be exercised by itself upon proper application of mind, the Supreme Court in a recently reported decision [State of West Bengal v. Subhas Kumar Chatterjee, AIR 2010 SC 2927] declared that surrender of powers by the tribunal to executive officers for determination was not permissible. The Court was referred upon a decision of the Administrative Tribunal directing an executive officer to take decision by referring the matter to such office. Condemning such approach, the Supreme Court declared that the Tribunal could not delegate its powers to executive officers, a practice which was not only illegal but also had unwanted effects on the system.

The Court observed inter alia as under;
15. Be that as it may, the Chief Engineer while acting under the directions of the Tribunal passed the order declaring that the respondents are entitled to the relief as prayed for by them and accordingly granted scale no. 11 to the respondents. The Chief Engineer completely ignored the statutory rules under which the respondents are entitled to only scale no. 9. The Government did not implement the same. The respondents once again approached the Tribunal seeking appropriate directions for implementation of the order passed by the Chief Engineer.
16. The Tribunal vide its order dated 18th August, 2005 having allowed the OA of the Respondents held that they are entitled to fixation of pay as recommended by the Chief Engineer and State must give effect to the same. We fail to appreciate as to how the Administrative Tribunal could have directed the State to implement the recommendations of the Chief Engineer which run counter not only to the recommendations of the Pay Commission but also the ROPA Rules, 1998.
17. Being aggrieved by the order of the Tribunal the appellant-State of West Bengal filed a writ petition in the High Court of Calcutta and the same was dismissed by the High Court. The High Court while upholding the validity of the order passed by the Administrative Tribunal adopted a very peculiar reason which in our considered opinion is totally untenable and unsustainable in law. The High Court took the view that “the Tribunal, in exercise of its power under Article 226 read with Section 19 of the Central Administrative Tribunals Act, has delegated rather conferred power upon” the Chief Engineer “to decide the  issue and has done it with reason and the same remains unchallenged. As such, even if on fact or in law, both the two orders might or might not be correct one, once the same is passed and is not set aside by the appropriate forum and the same is binding between the parties.” 
18. According to the High Court the decision of the Chief Engineer is a quasi judicial one in its nature and the same has been passed in exercise of delegation of powers by the Tribunal to decide the dispute between the parties as regards the fixation of pay scales. The High Court also held that the order of the Chief Engineer operates as resjudicata. We shall deal with this aspect of the matter a little later.
19. This court on more than one occasion decried such practices adopted by the tribunals directing applications filed before them to be treated as representations before the executive authorities for their decision on merits. It is for the tribunals that are empowered to examine service disputes on merits. Such delegation of power apart from being illegal and unconstitutional amounts to avoidance of constitutional duties and functions to decide such disputes which are exclusively entrusted to them by law. In pursuance of the power conferred upon it by Clause (1) of Article 323-A of the Constitution, Parliament enacted Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Act, indicates that it was being enacted to provide 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. Chapter III deals with the jurisdiction, powers and authority of the Tribunals. Sections 14, 15 and 16 deal with the jurisdiction, powers and authority of the Central Administrative Tribunals, the State Administrative Tribunals and the Joint Administrative Tribunals respectively. The Tribunals under the Act possess jurisdiction and powers of every other court in the country except the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, in respect of all service related matters. The Administrative Tribunals are conferred with the jurisdiction to hear matters where even the vires of statutory provisions are in question. Their function, however, in this regard is only supplementary inasmuch as such decisions are subject to scrutiny of the High Courts. Such is the extent of awesome powers and jurisdiction conferred upon the Tribunals. It is their bounden duty to adjudicate the matters coming before them but not delegate its jurisdiction to extra constitutional authorities. Such practice is fraught with undesirable consequences destroying the very purpose and scheme under which they are created and constituted to adjudicate disputes in specified areas. We hope and trust that the Tribunals in the country henceforth will not repeat such practice of sending the original applications filed before them to the Executive Authorities for their disposal.
20. The origin of this controversy lies and is traceable to the improper exercise of jurisdiction by the Tribunal remitting the original application made to it to the Chief Engineer for his decision. We are at a loss to appreciate as to how the tribunal could have issued such a direction virtually surrendering its jurisdiction to the Chief Engineer. 

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