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Lok Sabha passes Tribunals Reforms Bill

New Delhi, Social Times. Amid a din, the Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed a bill to abolish as many as nine appellate tribunals, including the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), set up under various Acts. The bill was passed by voice vote without a debate amid continuing protests by Opposition parties over the Pegasus snooping row and other issues. The Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021, which seeks to replace the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021, was introduced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday. The House was adjourned for the day after the passage of the bill, which provides for the abolition of tribunals or authorities under various Acts by amending the Cinematograph Act, 1952, the Copyrights Act, 1957, the Customs Act, 1962, the Patents Act, 1970, the Airport Authority of India Act, 1994, and the Trade Marks Act, 1999. Sitharaman said the government was ready to respond to any queries raised by members on bills laid in the House. Criticising the Opposition, Sitharaman said the "constitutional impasse" in Parliament was "not correct". She also said it was unfortunate that nothing is being done to stop the din in the House. The tribunals under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999, the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act, 2001, and the Control of National Highways (Land and Traffic) Act, 2002, would also be wound up.

All cases pending before such tribunals or authorities will be transferred to the Commercial Court or High Court, said the statement of objects and reasons of the bill. The bill also provides for uniform terms and conditions of service for chairperson and members of various tribunals. The government began the process of rationalisation of tribunals in 2015. By the Finance Act, 2017, seven tribunals were abolished or merged based on functional similarity and their total number was reduced from 26 to 19. The rationale followed in the first phase was to close down tribunals which were not necessary and merge tribunals with similar functions. The bill further said analysis of data of the last three years has shown that the tribunals in several sectors have not necessarily led to faster justice delivery and they are also at a considerable expense to the exchequer. "The Hon'ble Supreme Court has deprecated the practice of tribunalisation of justice and filing of appeals directly from tribunals to the Supreme Court in many of its judgements... "Therefore, further streamlining of tribunals was considered necessary as it would save considerable expense to the exchequer and at the same time, lead to speedy delivery of justice," it added.

Accordingly, the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Bill, 2021, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on February 13, 2021, proposing to abolish certain more tribunals and authorities and to provide for a mechanism to file an appeal directly to the Commercial Court or the High Courts, as the case may be. However, as the bill could not be passed in the Budget Session of Parliament and there was an immediate need for legislation, the President promulgated the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance 2021 on April 4, 2021. Introducing the bill in the Lower House on Monday, Sitharaman also withdrew the earlier bill introduced in February 2021.

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