The All India Ex-servicemen Welfare Association has demanded the abolition of Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) benches functioning in various part of the country, including its principal bench at New Delhi, on the plea that these have failed to provide relief to defence services litigants and are instead acting in favour of the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
The association’s chairman, Bhim Sen Sehgal, has written to the President, Prime Minister and the defence minister saying that the instead of providing help to the defence services litigants, AFT has done immense damage to the cause of justice to defence personnel, ex-servicemen, pensioners, war widows and disabled soldiers. According to Sehgal, a practising advocate at the Punjab and Haryana High Court and the AFT, retired Generals, who constitute the members of the bench have are not acting fairly for the reason that the AFT benches are functioning directly under the MoD instead of Ministry of Law and Justice.
“These institutions have become source of re-employment for retired Judges as well Retired Lt Generals and Major Generals who cannot act against the government,” said Sehgal. He added that latest representation with regard to abolition of AFT in absence of corrective measures has been acknowledge by office of the Prime Minister.
“How can justice be expected from retired defence officers who were, till some months ago, a part of the same system? The AFT was created in terms of judgement of the Supreme Court where it was directed that the Tribunal should be manned by ‘civilians’ and not from people associated with defence. The AFT should be a temple of justice, not a post-retirement home for facilities and salary,” the association chairman said.
He added that the AFT should only be manned by sitting judges or legal luminaries and not by retired military officers since all orders by the AFT are to be passed against the military and defence establishment. “In fact, in certain cases it is a mockery of justice, for example, in case of criminal appeal in death sentences, the appeal of a civilian goes to a division bench of two sitting judges of a High Court while in AFT it goes to a retired judge of a High Court who is sitting with a retired military officer. Can a retired military officer comment on legality of death sentence or other complicated legal issues? he questioned.
The association was also pointed out that the AFT has not been given any power of civil contempt which is available to all similar tribunals, such as the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT). In its representation, the association has said that the MoD and defence services continue to ignore AFT decisions and there is no power to punish them. Most of the judgments/orders of the AFT given since its formation have not been implemented till date by the defence services, the association claims.
Another point of discontent among the litigants is that the AFT Act does not provide any appeal to any forum expect the Supreme Court only limited to cases where there is a ‘point of law of general public importance’. “AFT hence is the first and last court for petitioners. It is also well known that litigants cannot afford to approach Supreme Court due to prohibitive costs of litigation involved in the apex court. Please compare this to civilian employees who can approach the high court within their own states which is totally affordable for them and within reach and then they can further approach the Supreme Court if still dissatisfied,” said Sehgal.
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