CAT Chairman cannot stay the proceedings pending before a larger bench of High Court

Supreme Court: Explaining the scope of the powers of the Chairman of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), the Bench of R. Banumathi and Indira Banerjee, JJ said:

“The Chairman, like the Chief Justice of the Higher Courts or the Chief Judge of subordinate courts, may be higher in order of protocol and may have additional administrative duties and responsibilities. However, the Chairman, acting judicially, is equal to any other Member.”

In the case at hand, the CAT Chairman had stayed the proceedings pending before a Division Bench of the Uttarakhand High Court. The High Court had, hence, quashed the said order by the CAT Chairman.

Going through the provisions of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985, the Court noticed:

“A careful reading of Section 25 of the Act makes it clear that the Chairman deciding the question of whether a matter should be transferred from one Bench to another cannot grant interim stay of proceedings, there being no power conferred on the Chairman under the said section to pass such interim stay.”

It further elaborated on the scope of the powers of the CAT Chairman by stating that the Chairman may constitute Benches, shift members from one Bench to another, constitute Single Benches, Division Benches and even larger Benches, allocate business to the Benches and even transfer cases from one Bench to the other,

“but having done so he cannot interfere with the functioning of the Benches or tinker with its orders by passing interim orders in a transfer petition.”

Stating that an interim order passed by a court, on consideration of the prima facie case made out by an applicant, should ordinarily have been vacated by a Bench of coordinate strength after giving open notice to the applicant, the bench said:

“If the Chairman was of the considered opinion that there was urgency in the application for vacating the interim order, the Chairman ought to have assigned the application for vacating and/or vacation of the interim order to a Bench of two or more Members to consider whether the interim order should continue or be vacated. The Chairman could also have exercised his power to suo motu transfer the proceedings to another Bench without prior notice. The order of stay of the proceedings before the Nainital Bench is without jurisdiction and unsustainable in law.”

The Court upheld the decision of the High Court and held that the order of the Chairman of CAT staying proceedings before the two-member Bench was without jurisdiction and unsustainable in law as the CAT Chairman, being one amongst equals, could not have stayed proceedings pending before a larger Bench. [All India Institute of Medical Sciences v. Sanjiv Chaturvedi, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 118, decided on 01.02.2019]

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