Dr. K. Shivaram, Senior Advocate, is upset at the inaction of the Government in appointing Vice-Presidents to the ITAT. He explains that this inaction demoralizes the hardworking Members of the ITAT and robs them of the prospects of promotion. The author has also expressed grave reservations at the proposal of the Government to merge all the Tribunals into one body. He explains that the proposal is ill-conceived and has been mooted without paying regard to the specialized knowledge that is required to decide complex income-tax cases
Why is the Government not appointing the Vice-Presidents of the ITAT? Whether the move of the Government to merge the ITAT with other Tribunals is justified?
The Tax Bar has failed to understand why the Government is not keen on appointing 8 Vice-Presidents in the ITAT. The last appointments of Vice-Presidents were on 24-11-2009, however, thereafter till date, no further appointments of Vice-Presidents have been made. The Tax Bars across the country have made representations to the Government to appoint the Vice-Presidents at the earliest from amongst the Members who are eligible. When a person serves the institution with honesty and integrity, he expects a promotion which he deserves as a matter of right. By not appointing deserving members as Vice-Presidents, the morale of the honourable members may go down. By appointing the Vice-Presidents, the administration of the ITAT will improve and taxpayers will be benefitted. The Honourable members being in judicial service, cannot make this representation to the Government. In R. S. Mittal v. UOI, JT 1995(3) SC 417 (420/421), the Apex Court directed that the recommendations of the Selection Board for recruitment of Tribunal’s Members headed by a sitting Judge of the Supreme Court must be placed before the Appointment‘s Committee of Cabinet (ACC) expeditiously and preferably within two months from the date of recommendation and a time bound procedure should be followed. In the Finance Act, 2016 w.e.f. 1-6-2016, the Govt. has abolished the post of Senior Vice-President. No explanation was given in the notes on clauses as to why the Senior Vice-President post was abolished. It is Bar Associations which can take up such important issues with the Government. We make an appeal to all the stakeholders in the interest of the institution that the issue may be taken up with the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India and Honourable Law Minister. If no response is received, as a Bar, being the custodian of the Institution, we may have to knock the doors of the Judiciary.
There is apprehension amongst the Tax Bar that the Government is keen to merge the ITAT with other similar Tribunals. Possibly the (bureaucrats) who have moved the idea, may not be aware of the functioning of this great institution. One will appreciate that this institution is functioning under the Ministry of Law and Justice, whereas, many of the Tribunals such as Central Excise Customs and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal (CESTAT) and even Authority for Advance Rulings function under the Ministry of Finance. Even the selection process of the Members of the ITAT is done by the committee headed by a senior Judge of Supreme Court in a completely transparent manner. We are of the firm opinion that any move by the Government to merge the ITAT with any other Tribunal will destroy the independence of the institution. For example a member appointed in Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT), if he is transferred to ITAT to discharge the duty as a member of ITAT, can he do justice to the job? Can he decide extremely complicated issues of taxation? We therefore appeal to all the stakeholders including various Tax Bar Associations that they must oppose any such move by the Government All those concerned may express their views and it should be a national movement to save the institution. When there was a move to bring National Tax Tribunals to take away the jurisdiction of the High Courts, all the Bar Associations across the country strongly opposed it and ultimately the Apex Court struck down the National Tax Tribunal Act. We hope all those who are concerned with the judicial independency of the institution must join together and bring to the notice of the Government that merging the ITAT with other institutions is neither in the interest of taxpayers nor in the interest of the country.
We hope that Government will interact with the stakeholders before they introduce any provision to merge the ITAT with other Tribunals.
Dr. K. Shivaram
Editor-in-Chief, AIFTP Journal
Reproduced with permission from the AIFTP Journal