Administrative Tribunals in India

India is a democratic country and the establishment of a welfare state is its goal. It has an independent Judiciary i.e. it’s not under the control of either executive or legislature. But in the traditional judicial system, the service matters were also dealt with by the ordinary courts. There was no Tribunals’ system in India, resulting in a burden on the High Courts and Supreme Court leading to pending litigation. Many committees and even the Supreme Court recommended the Parliament for the setting up of Administrative Tribunals in India and as a result, the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 came into force. And the Tribunals (CAT, SAT, and JAT) were established which exclusively deal with the service matters and perform quasi-judicial functions. Therefore, the purpose behind this article is to analyze the background of the establishment of Administrative Tribunals in India, their development, features, composition, functions, advantages, and drawbacks.


In Administrative law, the term ‘tribunal’ refers only to the adjudicatory bodies that lie outside the sphere of the ordinary judicial system. In India, as we know the judicial system exists to safeguard the rights of the citizens and to provide justice to the victims. Therefore, to institute an effective system of Judiciary with lesser burden and effectiveness, the Administrative Tribunals or administrative adjudicatory bodies are established in the country to look after the service matters and they hold the quasi-judicial features.    

Administrative Tribunals Act

It owes its origin to Article 323-A of the Constitution of India which empowers Central Government to set-up by an Act of Parliament, Administrative Tribunals for adjudication of disputes and complaints concerning recruitment and service conditions of service of persons appointed to the public service and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union and the States. Thus, the Tribunals set-up under the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 exercise the original jurisdiction in respect of service matters of employees covered by it.

Background of Administrative Tribunals in India

For a long time, search was going on to relieve the burden of the courts, including High Courts and Supreme Court from the service litigation which had resulted in the substantial portion of pending litigation. At around 1958 this problem grasped the attention of the Law Commission which recommended for the establishment of tribunals consisting of judicial and administrative members to decide service matter.[1] In 1969 Administrative Reform Commission also recommended for the establishment of civil service tribunals both for the Central and State civil matters.[2] The Central Government appointed the committee under the Chairman of Justice J. C. Shah of the Supreme Court of India in 1969 which also made a similar recommendation. In 1975, Swarm Singh Committee again recommended the setting up of Administrative Tribunals in India.     The idea of setting up of Tribunals was also favoured in the judgment of K. K. Dutta vs. Union of India[3] to reduce the burden of the avalanche of writ petitions and appeals in service matters on the courts. In the meantime, various states like Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Assam established the Tribunal.  

Amid all these recommendations and developments in the country regarding the establishment of Administrative Tribunals, the Parliament passed Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976 which added Part XIV-A to the Constitution. Articles 323-A and 323-B enabled the Parliament to constitute administrative tribunals for dealing with certain matters specified therein.        

Administrative Tribunals

The introduction of Articles 323-A and 323-B to the Constitution through the forty-second amendment was done with the primary objective of excluding the jurisdiction of High Courts under Articles 226 and 227, except the jurisdiction of Supreme Court under Article 136 and for originating alternative institutional mechanism or authority for specific judicial cases and to reduce the pendency of litigation. Therefore, the tribunals are organized as a part of the civil and criminal court system under the supremacy of the Supreme Court of India.

Hence, we can say that functionally an Administrative Tribunal is neither an exclusively judicial body nor an absolute administrative body but it is somewhere between these two. That’s why they come under a ‘quasi-judicial’ body.

Features of Administrative Tribunals

Following are the Characteristic features of the Administrative Tribunals which distinguish them from the ordinary courts under Judiciary:

  1. Administrative Tribunals have statutory origin i.e., they must be created by any statute.
  2. They do have some similar features as that of the ordinary courts but not all are the same.
  3. Administrative tribunal performs both judicial and quasi-judicial functions and is also bound to act judicially in all circumstances.
  4. These tribunals are not adhered to by strict rules of evidence and procedure.
  5. Administrative Tribunals are independent and are not subject to any administrative interference in the discharge of their functions related to the judiciary.
  6. In the procedural matters, the tribunals possess the powers of a court to summon witnesses, administer oaths, and to compel the production of documents.
  7. It is confined exclusively to resolve the disputes/cases in which government is a party but often it moves to decide the disputes between two private parties for example Election tribunal, Rent Control Board.
  8. The Tribunals are to be abided by the principles of natural justice.
  9. Administrative Tribunals have to function fairly and impartially.

The Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 provided for three types of tribunals:

  • The Central Government establishes an administrative tribunal called the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT).
  • The central Government may upon receipt of a request in this behalf from any State Government, establish an administrative tribunal called State Administrative Tribunal (SAT).
  • Two or more states might ask for a joint tribunal, which is called the Joint Administrative Tribunal (JAT), which exercises powers of the administrative tribunals for such states.

Section 4(1) of the Act provides for the establishment of Central Administrative Tribunals. It also empowers the Central Government to establish an administrative Tribunal for any state upon receipt of its request, as mentioned above.

Composition of the Administrative Tribunals

Section 5 of the Act provides for the composition of tribunal and benches thereof. According to sub-section (i) of Section, each tribunal shall consist of a Chairman and such number of Vice-Chairman and other members as the government may deem fit. Section 5(2) further provides that a Bench shall consist of one judicial member and an administrative member. Section 5(4)(b) authorizes the Chairman to transfer the Vice-Chairman of a Bench or other members thereof to any other Bench.

Qualifications of the members:

Section 6 of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 prescribes the qualifications for the appointment of members such as Chairman, Vice Chairman, Judicial member, and Administrative members.

1.      Chairman:

For the appointment of a Chairman, a person must have the following qualifications:-

  • He/she is/has been a Judge of a High Court or
  • He/she has held the office of Chairman for at least 2 years or
  • He/she has held the post of secretary to the Government of India or
  • He/she has held any other post under the State or Central Government carrying the scale pay of Secretary.

Therefore, a retired person can also be appointed as Chairman of the Administrative Tribunal if he fulfills any of the above qualifications.

2.      Vice-Chairman:

For the appointment of a Vice-Chairman, the following qualifications have to be fulfilled.

  • He/she is/has been a Judge of a High Court or
  • He/she is/has been a Secretary to the Government of India or
  • He/she has held any other post under the State or Central Government carrying the scale pay of Secretary.
  • He/she has held office as a Judicial member or an Administrative member for a period not less than 3 years.

3.      Judicial member:

The qualifications for appointment as a judicial member are laid in the Sub-Section (3) of Section 6 as follows:

  • He/she is/has been, or is qualified to be a Judge of a High Court or,
  • He/she has been a member of the Indian Legal Service and has held a post of Grade I of that service for at least 3 years.

4.      Administrative member:

The following are the qualifications necessary for the appointment of an Administrative member laid down under Section 6(3-A) and 6(3-B):

  • He/she has held the post of an Additional Secretary to the Government of India or any other post under the Central or State Government carrying a scale of pay which is not less than that of an Additional Secretary to the Government of India, for at least 2 years, or
  • He/she has held the post of a Joint Secretary to the Government of India for not less than 3 years
  • Besides, he must have adequate administrative experience.

Appointment of the members:

 The appointment of Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and every other member of CAT has to be made by the President of India in consultation with the Chief Justice of India. Similarly, the appointment of the Chairman, Vice-Chairman and every other member of SAT has to made by the President of India in consultation with the Chief Justice of India and the Governor of the concerned State, which is laid down under the Section 6(4) to (7) of the Act.

The tenure of office of the Chairman and Vice-Chairman has been fixed as 5 years or 65 years of age whichever is earlier and for the members, it is fixed as 62 years.

Objectives of Administrative Tribunals:

The basic purpose behind the establishment of these Tribunals is as follows:

  1. To provide expeditious justice to the civil servants, which was not available through the traditional system.
  2. To reduce the congestion in the courts or to lower the burden of cases in courts.
  3. To provide for speedier trial and quicker disposal of cases relating to the service matters.

Working of the Administrative Tribunals

The administrative tribunals started to function in November 1985, and since then sixteen years have passed which is a sufficient period for any meaningful evaluation of the system. Unfortunately, much research has not been undertaken in this area. However, from the few materials available we can know about the working of the Central Administrative Tribunals.

  • The Tribunals adjudicates disputes and complaints concerning recruitment and conditions of service of persons appointed to the public service and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union and the States. 
  • Recruitment of any civil service Union or All India Service or civilian employees of defense services;
  • To take up all the service matters of the above-mentioned employees and also of local or other authority within the territory of India or under the control of the Government of India or society owned or controlled by the Government;
  • To take up the service matters of such persons whose services have been placed by the State Government or any other local or other authority or any corporation at the disposal of the Central Government.

How are Courts different from Tribunals?

CourtsAdministrative Tribunals
A court of law is a part of the traditional Judicial System.The Administrative Tribunal is an agency created by a statute with Judicial powers.
A court of law is vested with general jurisdiction over all the matters.The tribunals deal with the service matters with limited jurisdiction to decide a particular issue.
Courts are strictly bound by all the rules of the Evidence Act and by the procedure of the CPC.Tribunals are not bound by the rules of the Evidence Act and also by the CPC unless the statute which creates the tribunal imposes such an obligation.  
Courts are presided over by the officer/s who is/are expert/s in the law called Judge/s.It is not mandatory in the case of Tribunals that the members are to be the experts in the law.
The courts are bound by precedents, the principle of res judicata, and the principle of natural principles of natural justice.The Tribunals don’t need to follow the precedents and the principle of res judicata but the principles of natural justice are obligatory.
Courts have the power to decide and question the legislation.Tribunals cannot decide the validity of the legislation.

The constitutional validity of Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985:

The constitutional validity of this Act was challenged before the Supreme Court in S.P. Sampath vs. Union of India[4] on the ground that the exclusion of judicial review of the High Court violated the basic structure of the Constitution. Negotiating the contention the court held that no matter the judicial review which is the basic feature of the Constitution cannot be violated but it is within the power of Parliament to amend the Constitution to substitute in place of High Court to another alternative mechanism of judicial review provided it is no less efficacious than High Court.

The whole question of the constitutionality of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 came before the Apex-court in the case of L. Chandra Kumar vs. Union of India[5]. The court, in this case, held that the case of Sampat Kumar was decided against the background that the litigation before the High Courts had exploded in an unprecedented manner and therefore, the alternative inquisitional mechanism was necessary to remedy the situation. But it is self-evident that the Tribunals have not performed well and the drastic measures were necessary to elevate their standard by ensuring that they stand up to constitutional scrutiny.

The court further held that, because the constitutional safeguards which ensure the independence of the Judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts are not available to the members of the Tribunals, hence, they cannot be considered a full and effective substitute for the superior judiciary in discharging the function of Constitutional interpretation. Against this backdrop the court concluded that Administrative Tribunals cannot perform a substitutional role to the High Court, it can only be supplemental. Therefore, clause 2(d) of Article 323-A and clause 3(d) of Article 323-B of the Constitution, to the extent they exclude the jurisdiction of the High Courts and the Supreme Court under Articles 226, 227 and 32 of the constitution were held unconstitutional and for the same reason Section 28 of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 which contains “exclusion of jurisdiction” clause was also held unconstitutional.

It was further observed by the Court that the power of judicial review of the Constitutional Courts is a part of the inviolable basic structure of the Constitution. However, the Administrative Tribunals shall continue to be the courts of the first instance in service matters and no writs can be directly filed in the writ courts on matters within the jurisdiction of tribunals. Though the two-Judge bench, one of whom must be a judicial member, of the tribunal can determine the constitutionality of any statutory provision yet it cannot determine the constitutionality of the Administrative Tribunal Act, 1985. But the exercise of this power shall be subject to the scrutiny by the Division Bench of the High Court within whose jurisdiction the Tribunal is situated. Also, it has been laid down that the doctrine of precedent applies to the Administrative Tribunals also.

Advantages of Administrative Tribunals:

·       Flexibility:

The introduction of Administrative Tribunals in India engendered flexibility and versatility in the Indian Judicial system.

·       Speedy Justice:

The main goal of the Tribunals is to deliver quick and quality justice. Since the procedure here is not complex, so, it is easy to decide the matters quickly and effectively.

·       Less expensive:

As the Administrative Tribunals take lesser time to render Justice, they are less expensive as well when compared to the ordinary courts.

·       The lower burden on Courts:

The system of administrative adjudication was introduced in India to reduce the burden on the ordinary courts; hence, the Tribunals have relieved the Courts from pending litigation.

Drawbacks of Administrative Tribunals:

·       Against the rule of law:

It is observed by the critics that the establishment of the Tribunals in India has repudiated the concept of rule of law. ‘Rule of law’ means equality before law i.e. no one is above the law, not even the Government. The Administrative Tribunals seem to restrict the ambit of the rule of law by providing separate laws and procedures for certain matters.

·       Lack of specified procedure:

Unlike ordinary courts,these quasi-judicial bodies have no certain rules and procedures. The civil and criminal courts work on uniform procedure codes such as C.P.C and Cr.P.C respectively. But such specified procedures are not available to Tribunals. Thus, there is a chance of violation of principles of natural justice and there is a chance of arbitrariness in the functioning of the Tribunals as well.

·       Absence of legal experts:

Unlike the ordinary courts, the Administrative Tribunals have no obligation to have the members including the Chairman and Vice-Chairman to belong to a legal background. Therefore, the members may lack legal expertise which is very much essential in this field.


In the concept of the welfare state, the administration plays a vital role. In the present era, the role of administration has been increased. Hence, it was very much necessary for the administrative adjudication, by establishing competent authority exclusively for the service-matter disputes in India. The establishment of these Tribunals has led to the speedy trial and has consistently reduced the burden on Indian Courts, which are known to have a huge number of unsolved cases. Therefore, with the emergence of the concept of Administrative Tribunals in India, the administrative system is dynamically flourishing.


  1. Mention the provisions of the Indian Constitution, which have provided for the establishment of Administrative Tribunals.
  2. What are the different types of Administrative Tribunals in India and their composition?
  3. What are the characteristic features of the Administrative Tribunals?
  4. Explain the working of Administrative Tribunals in India.
  5. What was the reason behind the establishment of the Tribunals in India?
  6. How are courts in India different from the Administrative Tribunals?
  7. What are the advantages and disadvantages of Administrative Tribunals?


  1. Administrative Law by I.P. Massey

[1] XIV Report of Reform of Judicial Administration, (1958).

[2] Report on Personnel Administration, 1969.

[3] (1980) 4 SCC 38: AIR 1980 SC 2056

[4] (1987) 1 SCC 623

[5] (1997) 3 SCC 261

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