A bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and M R Shah took note of the submissions of senior lawyer Mahabir Singh that various posts at ATPMLA are lying vacant since 2019.
The bench, in the proceedings conducted through video conferencing, issued notice to the Union Finance Ministry and sought its response within four weeks.
The top court was hearing the PIL filed by lawyer and activist Amit Sahni.
The plea said media reports of August 2019 suggested that Delhi High Court’s Justice Sunil Gaur, since retired, would be appointed as chairperson of the tribunal dealing with economic offence cases under various laws including money laundering.
Justice Gaur was to succeed Justice Manmohan Singh on completion of his tenure in September 2019, it said. “But the said appointment was thereafter not notified and the post of chairman is lying vacant since then.”
The plea also referred to a response received under the Right to Information Act and said there has been an acute shortage of secretarial and other staffers in the tribunal, adversely impacting the functioning of the tribunal.
It said the court in numerous cases has held that “justice delayed is justice denied” but the ATPMLA, New Delhi, is “struggling to dispense justice particularly in absence of its Chairman and three members out of sanctioned strength of four and acute shortage of administrative staff.”
The plea added that the ATPMLA deals with “sensitive and crucial matters” pertaining to Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), Smugglers and Foreign Exchange Manipulators Act (SAFEMA), the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS), Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) and the Prohibition Of Benami Property Transactions Act (PBPT).
The plea, filed through lawyer Preeti Singh, said the Finance Ministry has failed to take appropriate steps in filling up vacancies in the tribunal on a priority basis and in an expeditious manner.
“The tribunal is mandated to consist of a Chairman, who has to be a retired Judge of this Court or High Court and Four Members, who can be from the fields of Law, Finance and Management. But the Tribunal is constrained to function with its sole member and therefore sufficient number of matters cannot be taken up in absence of Presiding Officers,” it said.
The very object for constituting tribunals is to supplement the functions of the High Courts and the other courts and to ensure that consumer of justice gets speedy redressal to his grievances, it said.
The plea said the CPIO of the tribunal informed that “there are 2822 cases of PMLA, 66 cases of FEMA, 270 cases of NDPS, 1077 cases of FEMA and 1134 cases of PBPT are pending before the Tribunal and there were 23 vacancies in the tribunal”.