The Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) was set up in 1985 with the principal bench at Delhi and additional benches in different states. At present, it has 17 regular benches, 15 of which operate at the principal seats of high courts and the remaining two at Jaipur and Lucknow. These benches also hold circuit sittings at other seats of high courts.
The CAT exercises original jurisdiction in relation to recruitment and all service matters of public servants covered by it. Its jurisdiction extends to the all-India services, the Central civil services, civil posts under the Centre and civilian employees of defence services. However, the members of the defence forces, officers and servants of the Supreme Court and the secretarial staff of the Parliament are not covered by it.
The CAT is a multi-member body consisting of a chairman and members. Earlier, the CAT consisted of a Chairman, Vice-Chairmen and members. With the amendment in Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 in 2006, the members have been given the status of judges of High Courts. At present (2016), the sanctioned strength of the Chairman is one and sanctioned strength of the Members is 65. They are drawn from both judicial and administrative streams and are appointed by the president. They hold office for a term of five years or until they attain the age of 65 years, in case of chairman and 62 years in case of members, whichever is earlier.
The appointment of Members in CAT is made on the basis of recommendations of a high powered selection committee chaired by a Sitting Judge of Supreme Court who is nominated by the Chief Justice of India. After obtaining the concurrence of Chief Justice of India, appointments are made with the approval of Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC).
The CAT is not bound by the procedure laid down in the Civil Procedure Code of 1908. It is guided by the principles of natural justice. These principles keep the CAT flexible in approach. Only a nominal fee of t50 is to be paid by the applicant. The applicant may appear either in person or through a lawyer.
Originally, appeals against the orders of the CAT could be made only in the Supreme Court and not in the high courts. However, in the Chandra Kumar case (1997), the Supreme Court declared this restriction on the jurisdiction of the high courts as unconstitutional, holding that judicial review is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. It laid down that appeals against the orders of the CAT shall lie before the division bench of the concerned high court. Consequently, now it is not possible for an aggrieved public servant to approach the Supreme Court directly against an order of the CAT, without first going to the concerned high court.