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SC disapproves of Centre's further verification of tribunal members

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New Delhi, May 17 (Ajit Weekly News) The Supreme Court on Tuesday disapproved of the Centre’s practice to conduct additional verification of members chosen for the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT), despite recommendation for the appointment by the Search and Selection Committee (SCSC).

A bench of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and P.S. Narasimha emphasised that the government must bring on record additional material on the candidates before the SCSC, which can take it into consideration while taking a decision on their suitability.

“It would in our view be appropriate if any such material which has come to the knowledge of the competent authority were to be brought to the notice of the SCSC,” it said, favouring the Centre placing inputs on the candidates considered for appointment – whether from the Intelligence Bureau or any other source – before the SCSC.

Against this backdrop, the bench said the SCSC will have an advantage to decide whether any modification to the orders passed is required bearing in mind the new facts.

The bench observed that the SCSC, which is headed by top court judge Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, recommended 41 names for appointment to the ITAT. Out of the 41, 28 were on the main list and 13 were on the waitlist, and the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet approved 13 names on September 11, 2021 and 9 on October 1, 2021 – which makes a total of 22 candidates. Therefore, 19 candidates remained to be appointed, it added.

The Centre’s counsel said some names were rejected, following additional information on the candidates after they were recommended by the SCSC.

As Attorney General K.K. Venugopal produced the files, which were sought by the top court in connection with the appointments, the bench queried as to who undertook the exercise of collating additional details?

“It was the Prime Minister’s Office,” he replied.

After examining the files, the bench said it contains feedback sheets for candidates recommended for members of the ITAT. It added that there are three columns – IB report, feedback, and remarks – against each candidate recommended to the tribunal. The bench noted that the issue is with the feedback column and pointed out that from tabulation, it is apparent the feedback is diametrically at variance with IB report.

It further pointed at the subjective comments in the feedback column, which puts a question mark on the fairness in the process.

On the composition of the SCSC, the bench said it, besides being chaired by a Supreme Court judge, also comprises two Secretaries of the Central government, as it emphasised that all inputs, which are available with the government, must be placed with SCSC in advance.

The top court made these observations while hearing a plea seeking contempt proceedings against senior government officials for delay in appointments to ITAT. The bench said all material, where names were rejected for ITAT, should be placed before SCSC within a week and scheduled the matter for further hearing on July 12.

–Ajit Weekly News

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