The Appellate Tribunal was originally constituted as the ‘Appellate Tribunal for Forfeited Property’ (ATFP) in 1977 under the Smugglers and Foreign Exchange Manipulators (Forfeiture of Property) Act, 1976 (SAFEMA). As such, it is one of the earliest tribunals in the country. The SAFEMA applies to the persons convicted under the Sea Customs Act, 1878 or the Customs Act, 1962, the erstwhile Foreign Exchange Regulations Act, 1947 (FERA) and the FERA, 1973, and to those detained under COFEPOSA whose detention orders were neither revoked by the Government nor set aside or quashed by the courts of competent jurisdiction, subject to the conditions specified in Section 2 of the Act. The Act is directed towards forfeiture of illegally acquired properties of such persons. Relatives and associates of such persons are also brought into the ambit of the Act in order to ensure that the illegally acquired properties belonging to the convicts/ detenus to whom the Act applies, which are held in their names of their relatives or associates do not escape the net. Similarly, holders of any property which was at any time previously held by such a person have also been brought into the ambit of the provisions, unless such holders can prove that they are transferees in good faith for adequate consideration.
2. The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS Act) was enacted in 1985 as an urgent need was felt for the enactment of comprehensive legislation on narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances which would inter alia consolidate and amend the existing laws relating to narcotic drugs, strengthen the existing controls over drug abuse, considerably enhance the penalties, particularly for trafficking offences, make provisions for exercising effective control over psychotropic substances and make provisions for the implementation of international conventions relating to narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances to which India had become a party.
3. The NDPS Act was amended in 1989 in order to implement the provisions of the International Conventions on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. A new Chapter VA was introduced in the Act which provided for seizure, freezing, and forfeiture of illegally acquired property derived from, or used in, illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. The provisions of the new chapter were more or less analogous to the provisions of the SAFEMA. Consequent to this, the ATFP started hearing cases under the aforesaid provisions of NDPS Act also.
4. The Prevention of Money-laundering Act(PMLA) was enacted in the year 2003 as it was felt that comprehensive legislation preventing money-laundering and connected activities which posed a serious threat not only to the financial systems of countries but also to their integrity and sovereignty was urgently needed. A comprehensive Bill, namely, the Prevention of Money-Laundering Bill, 1998 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on the 4th August 1998. The Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Finance, which presented its report on the 4th March, 1999 to the Lok Sabha. The Bill having been passed by both Houses of Parliament received the assent of the President on 17th January 2003. It came on the Statute Book as The Prevention of Money-Laundering Act, 2002 (15 of 2003). Section 25 of the Act mandated the Central Government to establish an Appellate Tribunal to hear appeals against the Adjudicating Authority and other authorities under the Act.
5. The Finance Act of 2016, which contained provisions for the merger of some of the existing tribunals constituted under various Acts, inter alia substituted section 25 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA) with a new section 25 providing that the Appellate Tribunal constituted under the SAFEMA shall be the Appellate Tribunal for hearing appeals against the orders of the Adjudicating Authority and other authorities under the Act under with effect from 01.06.2016. The same Finance Act also amended the name of this Appellate Tribunal from “Appellate Tribunal for Forfeited Property” to “Appellate Tribunal”.
6. In the same year, i.e., 2016, consequent to the enactment of The Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act, 2016 which also provided for the establishment of an appellate tribunal to hear cases under the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 1988 which was renamed‘The Prohibition of Benami Property Transactions Act, 1988 (PBPTA)’ by the same Amendment Act, a notification dated 25.10.2016 was issued to the effect that the Appellate Tribunal established under section 25 of the PMLA shall discharge the functions of the Appellate Tribunal under the amended Benami Act.
7. Vide the Finance Act of 2017 the Appellate Tribunal for Foreign Exchange (ATFE) constituted under section 18 of the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 was also merged with the Appellate Tribunal under the SAFEMA.
8. As a result of the sequence of events narrated above, the Appellate Tribunal, as it presently exists, is the conglomeration of the appellate tribunals set up under SAFEMA, PMLA, and FEMA. It currently hears appeals under five Central Acts, namely, SAFEMA (1976), the NDPS Act (1985), PMLA (2002), The Prohibition Benami Property Transactions Act (PBPTA) (1988) as amended in 2016, and FEMA (1999). This Tribunal adjudicates upon appeals and allied petitions filed against the attachment/forfeiture orders passed by the Competent Authority under SAFEMA/NDPS Acts, Adjudicating and other authorities under PMLA, and the Income Tax Department under the Prohibition of Benami Property Transactions Act. It also adjudicates upon appeals filed against the orders imposing fine passed by the Financial Intelligence Unit, India (FIU-India) and other orders passed by other authorities under FEMA imposing penalties.
9. The Appellate Tribunal is a national Tribunal and has its headquarters in New Delhi. It functions from the 4th Floor, ‘A’ and ‘C’ Wings, Lok Nayak Bhawan, Khan Market, NewDelhi. At present, it has no other permanent benches. The Appellate Tribunal comprises a Chairman and four Members.
10. As per the Tribunal (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2021, a person shall not be qualified for appointment as Chairman unless he is, or has been, a Judge of a Supreme Court or Chief Justice of a High Court, and shall not be qualified for appointment as Member unless he has held the post of Additional Secretary to the Government of India or any equivalent or higher post and has performed judicial, quasi-judicial or adjudicating function for three years.
11. While appeals from the orders of the Tribunal under the PMLA, PBPTA and FEMA lie to the High Court under the relevant provisions of the respective Acts, the SAFEMA and NDPS Acts do not provide for filing of appeal from the orders of this Tribunal.