The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld Centre's decision to abolish the Odisha Administrative Tribunal (OAT), saying its abolition does not leave litigants without a remedy or without a forum to adjudicate the dispute and also does not violate the fundamental right of access to justice.
A bench of Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Hima Kohli said: "The challenge to the constitutional validity of the impugned notification dated August 2, 2019 by which the OAT was abolished is rejected. The judgment of the High Court shall stand affirmed... the appeals are dismissed."
The bench noted that the failure of the Central government to conduct a judicial impact assessment before abolishing the OAT does not vitiate its decision to abolish the OAT because the directions in Rojer Mathew were of a general nature and did not prohibit the abolition of specific tribunals such as the OAT in the absence of an assessment.
The bench observed that the order does not leave litigants without a remedy or without a forum to adjudicate the disputes as the high court is available to hear cases which were pending before the OAT prior to its abolition.
It said the principles of natural justice were not violated because the class of people who were affected by the decision to abolish the OAT did not have a right to be heard. "The public at large (or some sections of it) did not have a right to be heard before the policy decision was taken," it added.
The top court dismissed the petition filed by the Odisha Administrative Tribunal Bar Association challenging the Orissa High Court's decision of June 7, 2021 which upheld the abolition of the OAT.
Citing Article 323-A of the Constitution, the bench said it does not preclude the Centre from abolishing such tribunals because it is an enabling provision which confers the government with the power to establish an administrative tribunal at its discretion (upon receiving a request from the relevant state government in terms of the Administrative Tribunals Act).
In its 77-page judgment, the bench said: "The legal and factual context of the power to establish administrative tribunals, the purpose of this power and the intention of the legislature establish that there is no duty to exercise the power conferred by the Administrative Tribunals Act, such that the enabling provision becomes a mandatory provision."
It added that "the Union Government acted in valid exercise of its powers when it invoked Section 21 of the General Clauses Act read with Section 4(2) of the Administrative Tribunals Act to rescind the notification establishing the OAT because the decision to establish the OAT was an administrative decision and not a quasi-judicial decision".
Chief Justice Chandrachud, who authored the judgment on behalf of the bench, said the Central government did not become functus officio after establishing the OAT because the doctrine cannot ordinarily be applied in cases where the government is formulating and implementing a policy.
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