‘Picked out from a hat’: SC on 50 yrs minimum criteria for tribunal


New Delhi, July 14 (IANS) The Supreme Court, in a majority 2:1 judgment, on Wednesday held that the minimum age limit of 50 years prescribed by the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance 2021 for appointment as members in various tribunals, is “arbitrary and discriminatory for young meritorious candidates”.

The majority comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat noted minimum 50 years age limit, which was introduced by the ordinance, violated the court’s earlier direction that advocates with minimum experience of 10 years should be made eligible for appointment as members of tribunals.

Justice Bhat said the qualification of a minimum age of 50 years is discriminatory, because it is neither shown to have a rational nexus with the object sought to be achieved, i.e. appointing the most meritorious candidates; nor is it shown to be based on any empirical study or data. “It is plain and simple, discrimination based on age. The criterion (of minimum 50 years of age) is virtually ‘picked out from a hat’ and wholly arbitrary,” he added.

The top court said the Constitution makes an advocate, who has practiced for more than 10 years, eligible for consideration for appointment as a judge of the high court and even the top court. Also, an advocate with seven years’ practice with the Bar can be considered for appointment to the position of a district judge.

It stressed that prescribing 50 years as a minimum age limit for consideration of advocates has the devastating effect of entirely excluding successful young advocates, especially those who might be trained and competent in the particular subject.

“The exclusion of such eligible candidates in preference to those who are more than 50 years of age is inexplicable and therefore entirely arbitrary,” the top court said.

Observing that data, as indeed similar data from other tribunals, shows that past appointment to these positions was amongst younger, and competent persons, the court said: “The Union has not shown why this past history requires departure, and why that longstanding basis for appointing younger professionals, now needs to be departed from, in public interest.”

Three separate judgements were delivered by a bench of Justices Rao, Bhat and Hemant Gupta on a plea by the Madras Bar Association, challenging the Sections 12 and 13 of the ordinance by which Sections 184 and 186(2) of the Finance Act, 2017 was amended.

In a majority judgment, Justices Rao and Bhat declared provisions in the Tribunals Reforms Ordinance 2021, fixing minimum age of 50 years, and four-year tenure of Chairmen and members of various tribunals, as unconstitutional and set aside these provisions. However, Justice Gupta delivered a dissenting judgment and dismissed the petition.

The top court held that these provisions were “contrary to the principles of separation of powers, independence of judiciary, and rule of law”.

The Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021, issued by the Ministry of Law and Justice, was notified on April 4. The top court also clarified ordinance’s provisions will not apply to appointments made prior to its notification.


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