Faced with the imminent prospect of attachment of properties and salaries of the Ministry of Defence, implementation orders in about 250 cases were placed before the Chandigarh Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) on Monday in petitions pending before the tribunal for non-execution of its judgments.
Some of the judgments, whose implementation orders were produced today, are as old as four years. All judgments pertain to disability benefits for disabled and war-disabled soldiers.
While passing such strong orders for the first time in a bunch of execution petitions last month, a bench headed by the newly appointed judicial member Justice SS Thakur had made it clear that the tribunal would be taking coercive action and invoking the powers of execution under Order 21 of the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC) to get its orders executed, which had not been implemented by the Ministry of Defence.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court had passed an order last year in a Public Interest Litigation titled ‘Maj Navdeep Singh Versus Union of India’ making it clear that the AFT could invoke provisions of Order 21 of CPC to get its orders implemented. Order 21 provides for both detention and attachment of property of judgment debtors. It was brought to the notice of the High Court that “keeping the implementation of judicial orders in suspended animation was an affront to the majesty of law which the Tribunal was duty-bound to protect and was also against the grain of judicial dignity”.
Many organisations, including the All India Ex-Servicemen Welfare Association through its Chairperson, Bhim Sen Sehgal, had repeatedly complained to the defence minister in the recent past regarding the contemptuous behaviour of the Ministry of Defence in not showing due regard to orders of the AFT and for not implementing the same.
The Chandigarh Bench of the AFT was constituted in 2009 and it is stated that more than 70 per cent cases pending before it pertain to non-execution of orders.
The failure to get its own orders implemented by the AFT had remained a sore point with litigants. The tribunal has not been provided with the powers of civil contempt and even an explicit execution procedure had not been provided by the government. The Kerala High Court had however ruled that non-implementation of orders by MoD amounted to criminal contempt since it amounted to interference in administration of justice.
Similarly, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had recorded in its orders that the tribunal could invoke powers under CPC to execute its orders. In a separate judgment, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had also ruled that the AFT should be brought under the Law Ministry instead of the MoD. An SLP filed by the MoD against the shifting of jurisdiction is pending in the Supreme Court.