Breaking: Finance Minister Proposes a Draft Bill in the Lower House to Shut IPAB.

image from here

Just hours ago we broke the story about the Supreme Court judgement (pdf) dismissing the application seeking extension of the incumbent IPAB Chairperson and now we are in knowledge of an immensely interesting Draft Bill (pdf) introduced in the Lok Sabha which proposes to shut IPAB for good! The Bill was introduced the day before yesterday (11.02.2021) by the Union Finance Minister Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman, bearing the title “The Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation And Conditions Of Service) Bill, 2021”. While seeking to dismantle the IPAB, the Bill proposes to transfer its powers to High Courts (for patent, trademarks, GI, Plant Varieties related issues) and to Commercial Courts (for copyright matters). (see here, here, here and here for the previous debate  between Prashant and Arun on scrapping/ keeping IPAB.)

Those of you who have followed the 2021 Union Budget, might be aware that the government sought to reform the tribunal system in the country to ensure “speedy justice”. The bill seems to be in furtherance of this endeavor. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the proposed bill under para 3 and 4  accords the reasons for shutting down IPAB and 4 other appellate authorities and I am not surprised to see that they resonate well with the reasons which Prashant suggested in his posts here and here. The two para (s) are reproduced here for your reference:

  1. In the second phase, analysis of data of the last three years has shown that 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, including S.P Sampath Kumar versus Union of India (1987) 1 SCC 124, L. Chandra Kumar versus Union of India (1997) 3 SCC 261, Roger Mathew versus South Indian Bank Limited (2020) 6 SCC 1 and Madras Bar Association versus Union of India and another (2020) SCC Online SC 962. Therefore, further streamlining of tribunals is considered necessary as it would save considerable expense to the exchequer and at the same time, lead to speedy delivery of justice. Accordingly, it is proposed to abolish some more tribunals and transfer the jurisdiction exercised by them to the High Court.
  2. The tribunals that are proposed to be abolished in this phase are of the kind which handle cases in which public at large is not a litigant or those which neither take away any significant workload from High Courts which otherwise would have adjudicated such cases nor provide speedy disposal. Many cases do not achieve finality at the level of tribunals and are litigated further till High Courts and Supreme Court, especially those with significant implications. Therefore, these tribunals only add to another additional layer of litigation. Having a separate tribunal requires administrative action in terms of filling up of posts and such other matters, and any delay in such action further delays disposal of cases. Reducing the number of tribunals shall not only be beneficial for the public at large, reduce the burden on public exchequer, but also address the issue of shortage of supporting staff of tribunals and infrastructure.

Though the bill has only been proposed in the lower house as of now, I don’t think it will face any resistance in becoming an Act owing to the majority enjoyed by the NDA in both the houses of the Parliament. We are saving the discussion on the nitty gritties of the Bill for a later post along with the separate post on the above Supreme Court ruling, however, one cannot help but notice the uncanny coincidence that just the day after the proposal of this bill, the apex court dictates a judgement dismissing the request for extension of the incumbent Chairperson of the Board!

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