The Supreme Court on Thursday said that four judicial members of the Customs, Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal (CESTAT), who were due to retire between April and May, will remain in service till the court decides pleas challenging provisions of the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud and comprising Justice J.B. Pardiwala said: "We are of the considered view that it would be wholly unjust to allow the tenures of the four judicial members to lapse between April 18, 2023 and May 9, 2023. Though some of them have applied for selection in pursuance of the limited vacancy circular, this cannot deprive them of the right to assert that they are entitled to continue until the age of 62 years particularly in view of the order of this court dated August 21, 2018."
"We accordingly direct that the four judicial members, whose names are set out in the tabulated statement in the order dated March 3, 2023, shall continue to remain in service pending final disposal of the Writ Petition."
The top court has scheduled the matter for further hearing on July 11.
The bench noted that prima facie, at this stage, it appears uncontroverted that the selection of the above members of the CESTAT was in pursuance of a selection process which took place in 2016. At the material time, the parent legislation stipulated that the age of retirement would be 62 years, it added.
Attorney General, R. Venkataramani submitted that a limited vacancy circular was brought out by the Union Government and except P. Dinesha, judicial member (serial no.1 of the previous order), all the other members have applied for selection.
"Hence, it has been submitted that the Union Government would apprise this court on the result of the selection process and in the event that any of them is selected, they will have a tenure of a further period of four years. As regards P. Dinesha, it has been submitted that since he chose not to respond to the limited vacancy circular, there would be no reason to continue his tenure which is to end on April 18, 2023," said the bench, in its order.
Four judicial members of CESTAT - Dinesha, Ajay Sharma, Rachna Gupta, and Suvendu Kumar Pati, originally belonged to the district judiciary, and they had joined the tribunal under the old law. And, as per the term of appointment, these four members were to retire at the age of 62 years.
However, under the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021, the tenure of a judicial member has been fixed at four years. Due to this a situation has arisen where the services of the four judicial members will lapse on April 18, May 1, 3 and 9 respectively.
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