The Supreme Court Wednesday ruled that an appeal against an order of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) cannot be entertained by a High Court and that the apex court was the only appropriate forum.
A bench of Justices S J Mukhopadhaya and N V Ramana held that a High Court ought to hold its hands when the AFT Act had specifically laid down that an appeal against an order of the tribunal could be challenged in the Supreme Court.
Inherent powers of a High Court under writ jurisdiction, the bench said, could not be invoked when an equally efficacious remedy was provided to those aggrieved by the AFT orders under the Act itself.
“When a statutory forum is created by law for redressal of grievances, a writ petition should not be entertained ignoring the statutory dispensation. The High Court will not entertain a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution if an effective alternative remedy is available to the aggrieved person or the statute under which the action complained of has been taken itself contains a mechanism for redressal of grievance,” it noted.
It clarified that although a High Court’s power of judicial review was one of the basic features of the Constitution and any legislation, including AFT Act, could not override or curtail this jurisdiction, “they will certainly have due regard to the legislative intent” of the Act.
Under the Act, an appeal against the order of AFT could be taken to the apex court only if the tribunal issues a certificate that the dispute involved point of law of general public importance, or when an appeal against refusal of such a certificate is allowed by the top court.
“It is clear from the scheme of the Act that jurisdiction of the tribunal is in substitution of the jurisdiction of a civil court and a High Court so far as it relates to suit relating to condition of service of the persons subject to Army Act, Navy Act, and Air Force Act, which are special laws enacted by Parliament,” it said.
The bench clarified the point of law on a bunch of petitions arising out of divergent decisions of High Courts of Delhi, Allahabad and Andhra Pradesh. While the Delhi High Court entertained the appeals against the orders of the AFT, other two High Courts asked the aggrieved officers to approach the Supreme Court. The cases related to promotion and other service-related issues. The apex court allowed the appeals of the Ministry of Defence and set aside the orders of the Delhi High Court.
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