Sumitra Devi, whose husband died during Kargil war due to heart attack was refused liberalised benefits by MoD, which are admissible only in operational deaths. AFT, too, dismissed her petition but the High Court quashed AFT’s order and granted relief.
Lt Nishant Karol of the armoured corps died during a battle. AFT allowed the pension to parents only for a period of 6 months prior to filing of the petition. The High Court set aside the order and directed the release of pension from the date of death.
Maj Arvind Suhag suffered 100 per cent disability during an operational move in Kargil area. AFT refused the grant of war injury pension. The Delhi HC set aside AFT’s order and granted him the applicable war injury pension.
All the above cases show that the litigants from the defence community had a potent avenue of appeal in the high courts across the country which has been taken away by an apex court judgment last month. Now, one of the largest ex-servicemen body in the country has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking for an amendment to the Armed Forces Tribunal Act to allow for appeals in the high courts.
Writing to the PM, Major General Satbir Singh (retd), Chairman, Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM) has said that the majority of litigants before the AFT cannot afford litigation in the SC where an appeal is in any case not admissible unless one can prove a “point of law of general public importance”.
“We have reasonable information to believe that one of the grounds raised by the MoD/Army in the appeal for denying the right of judicial remedy, like other citizens of India, was that fundamental rights can be restricted/abrogated under Article 33 of the Constitution for defence personnel and hence a judicial remedy under writ jurisdiction of high court would not be available. If it is true that this argument was raised, then it is the most unfortunate that the system itself is pleading for placing defence personnel on a lower pedestal than other citizens and pleading before the Supreme Court that the military community does not deserve the enjoyment of fundamental rights like others,” said Singh.
The letter goes on to say that it is not understood how the defence ministry expects poor litigants, including disabled soldiers and widows from all over the country, to travel to Delhi and engage lawyers in SC to fight their cases. Most of the cases in the AFT involve issues such as disability benefits, pension, minor allowances, pay fixation, ACRs etc and litigants would now be expected to suffer in silence if they feel that they have not got justice from AFT.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Major Navdeep Singh, a former President of the Bar Association of AFT Chandigarh bench said that the decision of the SC based on the appeal filed by the MoD makes access to justice impossible and illusory for veterans and widows since on one hand the high courts have been asked not to entertain writs against AFT orders and on the other hand there is no provision of appeal in the Act to the SC.
“The situation is in teeth of constitution bench decisions of the SC including the L Chandra Kumar’s case, Kartar Singh’s case and more recently the National Tax Tribunal judgement of 2014,” he said.
According to Singh, AFT functions under the MoD and even its members are appointed by the MoD and selected by a committee which has the Defence Secretary as its member. “We request you to kindly abrogate Sections 30 and 31 of the AFT Act so that AFT orders can be challenged on the lines of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) thereby making justice accessible and practical for defence personnel, ex-servicemen, widows and their families,” said Singh in the letter.