The Punjab and Haryana High Court has directed that any appointments to the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) envisaged by the Union government shall remain subject to the outcome of the writ petition pending before it related to the constitutionality of the recent rules notified for various tribunals. The writ petition has challenged the notification of the rules which it claims undermines the independence of tribunals and place them under the the government control.
The HC had earlier issued a notice of motion to the government on the petition filed by Chandigarh-based lawyer Surinder Sheoran, through advocate Vikas Chatrath, wherein it was averred that the rules were in contravention of the concept of ‘separation of powers’ and law laid down by the Supreme Court in a number of cases.
The SC has also recently taken cognisance of a challenge to the new rules in a writ petition filed by High Court lawyer and founder president of AFT Bar Association, Navdeep Singh, and has tagged the said plea with a case related to tribunals being heard by a five-judge Constitution Bench.
It was submitted in the HC as well as SC that the Central Government had provided that AFT would function under the Ministry of Defence and that the defence secretary, who is the first opposite party in every litigation, shall be a part of the selection committee for recruiting and reappointing members for the AFT and for removal and inquiry against them.
Till now, an SC judge used to hold inquiries against members. The reduction of tenure of members and downgrading of their status has also been challenged, among other things.
When pointed out that the Ministry of Defence had already issued an advertisement to appoint administrative members of the AFT based on the new clauses, a division bench comprising Justices Mahesh Grover and Raj Shekhar Attri passed the interim order making any future appointment subject to the outcome of the pending case.
Meanwhile, Justice Mahavir Singh Chauhan has joined the Chandigarh Bench of the AFT as Judicial Member. All three vacancies of the Chandigarh Bench were lying vacant for the past one year since the retirement of Justice Surinder Singh Thakur. Work in the AFT continues to be crippled due to non-appointment of Members in most benches across the country.