The Government of India has moved an amendment to the Finance Bill 2017 in which it is proposed that the Cyber Appellate Tribunal (CyAT) constituted under Section 48 of Information Technology Act 2000/8 would be merged with Telecom Disputes Settlement & Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) constituted under Section 14 of the TRAI Act.
The CyAT had not been functioning since June 2011 after the then acting Chair Person Mr Rajesh Tandon attained super annuation and the then prevailing UPA Government in which Mr Kapil Sibal as the Minister of IT did not see eye to eye with the Chief Justice of India to find a substitute.
It must be noted for the sake of history that the appointment of the Chair Person of CyAT became a battle of prestige between the UPA Government and CJI and continued even after the Modi Government took over. Mr Ravishankar Prasad was unable to sort out the differences with CJI since this Government was caught in the NJAI dispute with the Judiciary. This was a bigger battle between the Judiciary and the Legislature and there was no agreement on the appointment.
It was a matter of shame for Mr Modi’s Government that even after coming to power in 2014, until now they were not able to appoint a Chair Person to CyAT and make it functional.
Naavi.org has been vocal in its views on this matter and how the Cyber Crime victims have been put to unjustified harassment because of the failure of the successive Governments as also the honourable Supreme Court in settling their inter-se disputes and consequentially holding the Cyber Crime victims to ransom. (See past articles here)
Now the honourable Minister of Finance, Mr Arun Jaitely who is also the defacto second in command in the Modi Government, seems to have come up with what he may consider as a “Master Stroke” and proposed a merger of CyAT with TDSAT.
The principle adopted here is:
“If we cannot find a Chair Person, then the solution is to simply abolish the Tribunal”… “It is as simple as trying to cure cold by cutting off the nose”
Advisors to Mr Jaitely might have felt that it may make political sense also since we already have a Tribunal called TDSAT (where fortunately there is a functioning body) we can hide CyAT under TDSAT and no body will know the difference. Hence this grand idea.
In order to avoid any discussion about the proposal, the amendment has been brought to the Finance Bill so that the proposal will sail through the Parliament. Most MPs except perhaps Mr Rajeev Chandrashekar would not understand the implications and the Government can claim credit that they have solved the problem of CyAT which was in existence since 2011.
I will not be surprised if the equally ignorant Media persons also hail this as a great development to control the raising incidence of Cyber Crimes in the country such as the Card data breach of State Bank of India and other Banks. There will be Delhi based legal experts who will endorse the decision or oppose it based on their political affiliations without addressing the real issues of the public.
But, the undersigned would like to go on record to state that this move to merge CyAT with TDSAT is not a wise move. It is a knee jerk reaction and not well thought out. It is anti-consumer and will make justice in-accessible to the Cyber Crime victims.
I am aware that Mr Jaitely will not change his decision now and Mr Modi will not know the real impact of this decision. So the decision is a fait accompli.
What is now left for Cyber Law Activists is to focus on the rules and regulations that need to be notified for the activities of TDSAT related to the CyAT and salavge some consumer orientation in the rules.
This is unlikely to happen in a hurry but is the only opportunity to ensure that the merger move does not permanently damage the Cyber Judicial structure in the country envisaged by ITA2000/8 and set the country back in terms of Human Rights and Ease of Doing business.
It must be also noted that the Finance Ministry headed by Mr Jaitely could not force RBI to operationalize the August 11, 2016 draft circular on Limited Liability for Customers in Bank frauds because the Bankers could bring their influence on the RBI. Now it is the same Banking lobby who are behind this move to put a hurdle on Bank Fraud victims who have been knocking the doors of CyAT for relief.
I wish Mr Jaitely takes these accusations seriously and takes some corrective measures as I presume that the decision is not based on proper understanding of the problems involved and otherwise the intentions of the Government are noble.
I have already sent a brief personal appeal to Mr Jaitely as well as TDSAT on the expectations of Cyber Crime victims though I am not sure it will be responded to.
I will expand my views on my concerns in these columns and request other Cyber Law Specialists to contribute their views so that damage to the Cyber Crime victims of India can be limited.