The Punjab and Haryana High Court has issued notice to the Central Government on a challenge to the recently notified rules for various tribunals which undermine the independence of the quasi-judicial bodies and place them under the control of the Central Government. The petition, filed by former President of Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) Bar Association, Surinder Sheoran, avers that the rules are in contravention of law laid down by the Supreme Court in the cases of Madras Bar Association and R Gandhi and of the High Court in Navdeep Singh versus Union of India.
It has been stated in the petition that insofar the AFT is concerned, the Central Government has provided that AFT shall 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 committee for recruiting and re-appointing Members of the AFT and for their removal and enquiry against them which was specifically barred by the Supreme Court in Madras Bar Association’s case and by the High Court in Navdeep Singh’s case.
Till now, an SC Judge used to hold enquiries against Members. The new rules provide that even absence of a representative of the judiciary in the selection process will not make the appointments invalid. It has also been stated that while the Supreme Court had directed a tenure of 5 to 7 years for Members to ensure stability, the rules have decreased it from the existing 4 years to 3 years.
The rules have also introduced a new clause wherein any person with experience in business, economics, commerce, finance, accountancy etc can become a Member of the AFT while a similar clause was specifically struck down in R Gandhi’s case. The petition has also highlighted the new clause allowing AFT Members to take up employment with the Government after retirement which was specifically barred by Section 11 of the AFT Act. The Petitioner has also averred that even the facilities of the Members, including those of former HC judges, have been downgraded to the level of regular Group-A Officers of the Government.
The new rules have come under fire from many luminaries and experts who opine that not only do the rules contravene the concept of separation of powers and judicial independence, but also make all tribunals and their Members subservient to the Secretaries of the Government against whom all orders are to be passed. Experts have also expressed surprise over reintroduction of patently illegal clauses even after being repeatedly quashed by the HCs and SC in a number of cases thereby demolishing the confidence of litigants in such tribunals.
The next date of hearing is 31st August.